Butler Armsden Architects unites historic California architecture and biophilic design philosophies in the crafting of a curated, custom-built Portola Valley home.
The spatial separation and visible change in material on the wing of the home is meant to evoke privacy and the essence of a pool house.
In 2016, a husband and wife purchased a home on 1.5 acres of prime property in Portola Valley’s Westridge neighborhood. After deciding to build their own house from scratch, the couple tapped founder Lewis Butler and managing principal Glenda Flaim of Butler Armsden Architects (butlerarmsden.com) to head the project. “We liked Lewis Butler’s energy, and he seemed to get what we were looking for right off the bat,” they note. “Meeting Glenda and seeing one of her jobs sealed the deal.”
The clients requested a simple, low-maintenance aesthetic with a recurring emphasis on outdoor spaces and the picturesque views of the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, magnifying the focus on the home’s natural surroundings. The four-bedroom, five-bath dwelling follows a courtyard scheme that embraces the art of indoor-outdoor living. For example, the layout’s lengthened walkways feature walls of steel-framed Crittall French doors and windows that maximize the space’s natural light. Most important? Having grown up in Portola Valley, it was critical for the husband to feel like the house belonged in the area and “had always been there.”
Lazy ’05 counter stools by B&B Italia in Christopher Hyland marigold fabric pair perfectly with the Lindsey Adelman Branching Bubble chandelier in the kitchen.
Because Portola Valley’s permit process is meticulously detailed and notoriously lengthy, one task that took considerable time was debating with the jurisdiction on which native grasses the team would install. “Were these native grasses of the pre-Mission-era California, or the late 1800s grasses, when the Rancho el Corte de Madera was established?” Flaim quips, adding, “A lot of details had to be planned and thought out before the first nail was hammered.”
Another difficult task: To keep the house at one story, the builders excavated a partial lower level that transformed the underground space into an indoor garage as well as a welcoming family room, spacious wine cellar and room for additional storage.
To further accentuate the couple’s affinity for untouched natural spaces, the typical placement of the backyard lap pool was scrapped and reworked. Rather than sitting parallel to the porch and interrupting the flow, the architects crafted a chic perpendicular design that sits off to one side of the yard and enjoys ample views of its own.
The stunning weather-proofed patio is a sunny spot for an alfresco meal.
Greige steel-troweled stucco walls act as a striking visual reference to early California architecture. One end of the home, however, is covered in board-and-batten siding—a subtle suggestion that the building has evolved over time. Other architectural elements like pitched roofs and wood-beam ceilings reference California’s early Spanish homes.
The serene outdoor spaces are the perfect blend of modern amenities and untouched wilderness. Perfect for entertaining even in the chillier months, the alfresco dining area includes a fireplace, built-in heat lamps and curtains specially built to provide protection from wind and rain. The patio’s focal point is the custom dining table crafted from Monterey cypress.
Another cozy outdoor gathering area is the concrete wall nook under the Monterey pines, complete with a custom fire pit sheltered by bamboo canopy. Elsewhere, a tranquil napping spot beckons with plush cushions and plenty of shade.
A cozy breakfast nook with pendant lighting from The Line, B&B Italia armchairs and a side table from The Residents
Delightful pomegranate tree sculptures by Italian artist Luciano Zanoni greet guests at the entrance, followed by a textural stairway installation by Valeria Nascimento, a Brazilian artist who finds inspiration in the fusion between urban landscapes and natural forms. A mix of modern and classic pieces dot the abode—think a board-formed concrete chimney, black powder-coated steel windows, a metal roof and wood beams—a lively design fusing clean lines with rustic finishes.
A statement Carlo Scarpa Poliedri chandelier, customized specifically for this project by Venini, sits pretty in the dining room.
The Primary Suite
Taking advantage of the high ceilings in the primary bedroom, Flaim’s modern interpretation of the classic four-post bed is custom-made by Mayline Office Furniture Experts (mayline2go.com) and creates what she calls “an intimate room within a room.” A built-in wall cabinetry unit from Luminaire (luminaire.com) keeps the space calm and uncluttered.
The spalike primary bath used by the husband is a sumptuous indoor-outdoor Japanese-inspired space and steam room. To optimize the room’s captivating views, the rectangular wooden tub—lovingly made with traditional methods and imported from Japan—was semirecessed into the ground. Yet another Monterey cypress, a water-resistant wood, serves as the steam room bench.
The primary bathroom boasts a Living Divani TRACK bench and Flexform G.T.Design Paglietta rug.
The Living Room
The homeowners and Flaim cite the living room as their favorite room in the 7,500-square-foot space. “Unlike [the] conventional living rooms I was brought up with, we’re actually in the living room every day,” the wife says, detailing the couple’s daily ritual of predinner cocktails and weekend mornings around the fire, sipping coffee and reading the paper. A board-formed concrete fireplace doubles as a structural support for the roof, while expansive doors open to embrace a covered porch. A relaxed gathering space, the Turner & Taylor Metal Works (turnertaylormetal.com) coffee table sits elegantly next to a custom Minotti (minotti.com) Hamilton island sofa and coffee brown leather tray—not to mention the glass walls and inspired ridge skylight that immerse the space.
A modern oasis, the primary bedroom features Flaim’s take on the classic four-post bed alongside a Minotti Luggage chaise.
“This is one of our firm’s favorite projects,” Flaim confesses. “We love its casual elegance; subtle, luxurious customization and bespoke art pieces; and its relationships to the beautiful nature surroundings.”
Butler Armsden Architects
Powder room sink
Entrance lighting, dining room and den chairs
Kitchen counter stools
DE SOUSA HUGHES
Primary bedroom side table
THE FUTURE PERFECT
Living room floor lamp
MAYLINE OFFICE FURNITURE EXPERTS
Dining room tabletop
Dressing room chaise and pouf
Powder room lighting
Photography by: JAMES CARRIERE