PROFILE / Los Altos Residence

Transformation in Los Altos: A Backstory

Staprans Design, Garde Hvalsøe and Panafold collaborated across the Atlantic on a project that transformed a 1950’s Bay Area ranch house. The story was picked up by California Homes, a regional magazine renowned internationally for features on design and architecture. We’re delighted with their cover story (Sept/Oct 2018), Transformation in Los Altos: Interior Designer Lisa Staprans designs a soulful home — especially because we know the fascinating backstory. Here’s an insider view.

The cover of California Homes

The cover of California Homes

Meeting the challenges 
Two things stand out in this surprising project. One is the international collaboration, and second is how a remodel can be more successful than a tear-down.

The 1950’s ranch remodel had conflicting goals: Long sight lines and windows, yet walls for art, books and hidden storage; A friendly space for cooks, dogs, kids and books, yet a space that felt sleek, minimal, and calm; No additional square footage, yet a light, open floorplan and multipurpose spaces.

Architectural redesign as well as construction was by Staprans Design Staprans Design led the transformation with collaboration from Panafold and Garde Hvalsøe, the Copenhagen firm that designs and crafts kitchens and furniture for remarkable chefs and others who love clean, contemporary design and wood cabinetry Staprans’ portfolio caught the eye of the clients, but the fact that the firm understood the colloquial language of Bay Area design and architecture clinched the job. Staprans’ vision, and the home’s linear 1950’s ranch bones, meshed well with the Scandinavian wood-centered minimalism core to the project. Panafold designed products and created design solutions throughout the process in close collaboration with Lisa and Armin, the principals of Staprans Design.

Collaboration with Garde Hvalsøe was astonishingly smooth, especially given the nine-hour time zone separation. Work happened in person, over video calls, through email and through Panafold’s interior design collaborative software. Once the Danish cabinetry arrived in big wooden crates, a carpenter arrived not far behind for the installation. (He was delighted to drive up California highways in a rented American muscle car.) The Danish team freely offered thoughts and their experiences. The whole process started right before Jul (Danish Christmas) and installation completed by the end of spring.

One example of a design puzzle was uniting the kitchen fireplace and range. The problem was how to install an exhaust hood for a range next to a roaring fire in a fireplace with its own prominent chimney. Collaboration through renderings and solutions by Panafold and Garde Hvalsøe, backed by the design and building expertise at Staprans, led to Wut Hwe’s solution to eliminate the external exhaust hood, and to incorporate a fan into a linear soffit, as seen on the cover of the magazine.

Choice of materials reflect the collaboration. Metals include darkened brass, Officine Gullo brass sinks, and brushed nickel hardware. The exterior includes Corten for planters and the custom Panafold-designed mailbox. Stone, plaster and metals complement wood. The bathrooms, larder and kitchen use quiet, unpolished Ipanema Reserve soapstone. The mixture of functional soapstone and soft white marble in the kitchen and baths is a low/high combination that emphasizes the elegance and informality of the space.

In a sense, the wood was a transatlantic collaboration as well. A mixture of American walnut and cedar, European and American oak, play off one another in cabinetry, window frames, flooring and doors, the dark and light woods emphasizing linearity.

Exterior & Energy 
Wood gives character to the exterior, too. Lisa Staprans’ color palettes complemented both the dark wood in the sharp sun of a southern exposure and in muted light settings indoors. Staprans installed expansive glass doors and windows to unite the interior with the native landscaping and raised beds (landscape design, Middlebrook Gardens).

Panafold pushed the linearity of the wood with dark strips of cedar that recall Japanese shou sugi ban or traditional Norwegian pine tar-preserved buildings. Kit Halvorsen also designed dark porch ceilings that float from the entry patio to the entry hall, above the dining space and through to the outside.

This remodel incorporated solar panels on the standing seam roofs for both household energy and for electric car charging. Deciduous trees and overhanging eaves shade the extensive glazing on the south in the summer, and let in warmth when the sun is low. Programmable skylights help as well, as do heated bathroom floors.

A cold larder that combines wine and food storage is a way to avoid a massive refrigerator. The small room is air-conditioned, with soapstone counters and a limestone floor that maintain temperature. Two app-controlled closable air vents take advantage of cool California nights, and ensure fresh air flow for fruit and vegetable storage.

Chef Melissa King test-drives the new kitchen (cabinets, Garde Hvalsoe; photo credit: James Carriere, courtesy of Staprans Design).

Chef Melissa King test-drives the new kitchen (cabinets, Garde Hvalsoe; photo credit: James Carriere, courtesy of Staprans Design).

Looking Back 
Many of the design decisions were risky. Could so many designers work together? Taking advantage of the original 1950’s clean lines, the California project was Scandinavian-inflected from the start, so it was a pleasant surprise when three sets of designers and builders— from San Francisco to Copenhagen — ended up sharing meals, ideas and ideals, and completing a pleasing project.

The result was not the tear-down the owners feared. The original Bay Area ranch was preserved and renovated. Not tearing it down let the finished work reference the local building vernacular as well as respect the environment. All the spaces are used, days turning into long evenings of entertaining where talented cooks like to drop by and neighbors and friends linger.