Step Inside a Nature-Inspired Modern Stanford Home

Aidlin Darling Design was inspired by the landscape when they created this Stanford home.A stately ash tree anchors the yard of this Stanford property,” explains Joshua Aidlin, cofounder of San Francisco–based architecture firm Aidlin Darling Design, “and, in fact, it became the focus for the entire project.” Taking inspiration from the Eames House, the Pacific Palisades home of iconic designers Charles and Ray Eames, Aidlin conceived an L-shaped home that wraps around the expansive tree and is “not your typical suburban house,” he notes.

The building was a 1950s ramshackle bungalow when the clients acquired it, but has been transformed into a minimalist masterpiece. It all began with extensive client meetings followed by a campout, “to get a feel for the nuances of the site at all times of the day,” says Aidlin. “The clients have a very sophisticated eye and are also very private people.” The intent was to build an informal, light-filled home with a modest street presence—and one that would capitalize on the southerly views of the Stanford hills beyond. Using a series of strong north-south anchor walls, and combinations of natural, cost-effective materials—plaster with planes of cedar wood, concrete, bamboo flooring—the firm achieved a streamlined, utilitarian space with a decidedly midcentury modern feel.

On approach, the property is a naturalist’s dream: The landscape design is by Monterey-based Bernard Trainor, whose aesthetic isn’t overly groomed, and the grounds feature indigenous plants and drought-resistant wild grasses throughout its Zen gardens and walkways. Because of the shade afforded by the signature ash tree, the architects were also able to create a two-story glass façade “that makes you feel as if you’re living in a tree house,” says Aidlin.

The transition from inside to outside is made seamless through decks—particularly the sweeping one off the living room that features a sitting area protected by a cantilevered roof. Iconic Butterfly chairs and a simple Vitra cork stool invite lingering, while the ash tree once again figures prominently by providing ample southern shade during the warm summer months.

As in many family homes, the combined kitchen/living room/dining area is the nexus of daily life: A sophisticated yet practical mix of brushed stainless surfaces, custom cherry cabinetry, and a Corian island designed to withstand spills and homework sessions are key to the family-friendly space. Durable bamboo flooring connects these rooms and adds a rich, textural element to the bedrooms and bathrooms as well. The study overlooking the backyard and an understated media room both have a pared-down aesthetic.

While most of the materials and colors employed are soothing neutrals, there are occasional vibrant pops including a deep blue central staircase “that was inspired by the saturated blues and greens of Sol LeWitt’s work,” explains Aidlin. Bathrooms feature grass-green tiles with translucent Bendheim etched glass, and window treatments are virtually absent from the entire house. “The master bedroom has custom wooden louvers. But for the most part, we just relied heavily on the shade from the surrounding trees,” says Aidlin. “This project was about building an effortless, spare suburban home to a specific site.”

A version of this article appeared in the June/July 2016 issue of SFC&G (San Francisco Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Nature Study.