Palo Alto Residence by Studio VARA

Palo Alto Residence / Studio VARA
In the front yard, multiple layers of low fencing, hardscape, and planting of various heights, textures, and colors are deployed to buffer the front façade from the sidewalk.

Project: Palo Alto Residence
Architects: Studio Vara
Interior Design: Studio VARA
Contractor: Von Clemm Construction
Lighting Designer: Tucci Lighting
Structural Engineer: FTF Engineering
Location: Palo Alto, California
Completed 2018
Photographer: Matthew Millman Photography

A young couple approached Studio VARA to design a new ground-up residence for their busy family of five on a prominent yet petite corner lot in Old Palo Alto. With a generous program and a limited allowable footprint, they challenged the designers to create a small, flexible home with a large presence.

Palo Alto Residence / Studio VARA
The exterior reads as a composition of stacked volumes: board formed concrete for the basement, cedar and larch siding for the main level, and dark panelized zinc for the top floor.

To solve this puzzle, Studio VARA conceived of the Palo Alto Residence as a Rubik’s Cube of tightly interlocking spaces that expand outward into a landscape of intimate yet generous outdoor rooms. To break up the massing and achieve lightness within a compact, rectilinear envelope, they used distinct materials to articulate three stacked volumes that shift and recede from sight as they move up: concrete for the basement, wood at the main level, and dark zinc for the top floor. The main level is lifted slightly above grade, allowing deep light wells to penetrate underground and provide light and air to a full basement. Carefully considered window placement adds ornament and rhythm to the façade.

Palo Alto Residence / Studio VARA
A series of metal and wood sunshades, screens, and railings add a fine-grained scale and tactile decoration to the composition. Layers of planting in the front yard create a gateway to the property that is offset from the front door to further reinforce the illusion of depth.

Inside, sumptuous materials and sophisticated detailing make the home feel large and luxurious. Uninterrupted floor-to-ceiling glass walls allow the outdoors and daylight to penetrate the house and maximize sightlines to achieve a feeling of spaciousness. Elegant, carefully considered cabinetry and built-ins in the kitchen and entertaining areas on the main level ensure that the open plan does not feel loft-like. A sculptural steel stair set against a continuous stone-slab wall anchors the entire house and unifies the three levels. Upstairs, the master suite and bedrooms are strategically organized to ensure privacy and views outside.

Palo Alto Residence / Studio VARA
The level of detail and ornament lend a human scale and hand-crafted feel to the abstracted forms and dramatic materiality of this modern home.

Studio VARA provided a full range of services to weave the architecture, interiors, furnishings, and landscape into a seamless, integrated whole.

Palo Alto Residence / Studio VARA
This three-story stair separates the entertaining spaces from a guest suite, powder room, and piano room on the ground floor, and channels movement and light as it cascades along a central stone wall.
Palo Alto Residence / Studio VARA
The central stair is the fulcrum around which the main spaces of the home revolve. Its muted material palette consists of soft tan Haisa marble, European white oak, and blackened steel.
living room / Studio VARA
Texture, color, and furnishings are meticulously layered piece by piece to ensure they fit seamlessly, and every object is given enough space, resulting in a home that feels rich, spacious, and elegant.
kitchen / Studio VARA
The kitchen, dining, and living areas flow together and expand outdoors as one larger space, anchored by a wall of floor-to-ceiling wood cabinets on one end.

Palo Alto Residence / Studio VARA

stair / Studio VARA

staircase / Studio VARA
Light pours in from a skylight and a large window in the stairwell and filters through the filigreed steel screen and wood stair that connects this private level to the family rooms below.

bedroom / Studio VARA

bathroom / Studio VARA

terrace / Studio VARA
The ground floor is carved away in the center to wrap around a central courtyard that brings daylight and outdoor space into all the interior spaces
Palo Alto Residence / Studio VARA
The second floor is a compact rectilinear volume containing bedrooms and bathrooms wrapped around a light-flooded central stairwell. The continuous order of high canopy trees softly illuminated against the ebonized wood fence frames a large courtyard like area, providing privacy.
Palo Alto Residence / Studio VARA
Around the perimeter of this courtyard, three walls of sliding and pocketing glass doors open up to a series of decks and patios that blur the lines between indoor and outdoor.
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