Nested in the oak filled hills of Los Altos Hills. When approached for this design project, the site was empty with hills sloping g at 33% downhill – the views of the San Francisco Bay were hidden by the beautiful and overgrown heritage oaks surrounding the site. The design goal was to open the site, open the views, and create outdoor spaces that are beautiful and multi-functional, but the clients wish list had another line that read: create something special.
When approached by the client about the landscape design for this project, the family of four asked for something special; they loved the site and the views, the natural conditions surrounding the site, but they wanted a design that was modern and sleek, functional yet in harmony with the large, native oaks lands surrounding the house. And they had one additional request: they wanted the landscape to feel special.
The landscape design approach then anchored in the playful juxtaposition between the gnarly native oak backgrounds and a straight, geometric constructed lines. Dark steel was chosen as a material that would threat throughout the property to become the a dominant material for most if not all constructed elements.
Landscape begins at the property entrance. The gate entry into the property is lined with two new, large Quercus agrifolias. The design language of the gate is informed by the house form. It is designed to create an interesting hide and seek effect as it’s deep vertical steel members only allow the views to the inside if looked at the right angle. The moment the angle changes, the house and the interiors of the property disappear from the views. The repetition of the vertical elements continues in the soldiering, flat bar steel fence surrounding the property.
The golden gravel driveway allows permeability and ground texture and is interrupted by concrete walkway leading into the house. The steel bridge, over a modern koi pond connects the house with the grounds. The koi pond is modern, rectangular in shape and lined with dark gray tile – with this treatment, the koi becomes a reflecting pool, the water reflects the skies and surrounding landscape, constantly changing throughout the day. The steel overhang over the koi extends into the gravel driveway, it snakes around and comes back to hang over the koi pond, before it returns to the driveway.
Interior of the house in oriented towards landscape on three sides, the front; anchored the the Japanese maple and koi pond; the back, inviting the native oak lands and the views of the bay; and on the side, where the real functional connection to the ground was possible. The living room opens out onto the landscape with a very simple approach of extending the house feeling outside. The connections are smooth and functional. The steel walls bend to create informal seating spaces.
There are two separate, connected flat spaces on this site; one was requested to be turf as the family wanted to have multifunctional area that was kid friendly and that could easily transform into a garden party for 60 to 80 people; the second, is a deck, designed for a simple outdoor kitchen, providing space for outdoor dining and smaller family gatherings – yet with the potential to allow for larger garden party to spill into it from the upper flat terrace.
The primary use of the side yard however is as a true extension of the interior of the house – it seamlessly extends the view from the living room out into the flat, green and beautifully crafted terraces. The outdoor is designed to take full advantage of the house – the clean lines of the constructed elements of the terraces extend to retaining walls and finally, the gate in the distance.
The edges of constructed elements are deliberate and intentional. The design does not shy away from drawing attention to the steel as an unifying material – the steel bends to create stairs and benches; it repeats in vertical elements at fences and gate; it threads trough surfaces to connect softscape and hardscape at driveway and koi pond. It is both hard and fine as a material, and it blends with the surrounding landscape, green in the winter and gold in the summer, it achieves the goal of a landscape that is special, as requested by the clients on the first meeting.
The planting palette is climate appropriate and low water use, yet the team incorporated gray water system for the planted areas. The planting material consists of native and deer resistant California Oaks, Ceanothus and Myrica species for screening; Grasses such as Lomnadra l. Platinum Beauty, Seslaria autumnalis, Stipa gigantea, Festuca mairei and Chondopetalum tactorum cover most of the structured planted areas. Floweirng plants such as Delphinium Belladona, Delphinium King Arthur, Salvia Mysic Spires, Achillea Moonshine, complete the simple and soft planting palette.
The Taaffe House
Role of the entrant in the project: Principal Designer
Los Altos Hills, California
Design year: 2016
Year Built: 2017/2018