Engawa House

Project Description

Los Altos is, in some ways, like many other cities in the Bay Area: lined with homes that were built decades ago, creating a well-intentioned but somewhat outdated suburban fabric. Many families live there because of good schools, relative proximity to workplaces, and other priorities outside of their homes. While these parameters narrow the radius of where they want to live, how they want to live is personal and tailored; something we can help realize by design. These homes are actually brimming with the potential to be reinvented, reactivated, and made relevant. These homeowners recognized the presence of this opportunity in a midcentury ranch-style home on a short cul-de-sac.

The couple loved this quiet street off of a main thoroughfare that made access to work and school easy. The existing house was mostly in its original condition, and there was a remnant of an old rock garden in the middle of the property that reminded them of Japanese gardens they love. They saw this property as a diamond in the rough.

The small, segmented rooms of the original home were not conducive to the open, immersive, and loving environment the couple wanted to cultivate for their family. The owners also wanted to be able to work from home, host intimate gatherings, and create a space that brings people together with ease. They wanted an environment that was flexible, with the ability to morph and adapt as the family grew. In addition, grandparents from across the globe frequently visited for long periods, requiring a separate space for them to feel comfortable and independent. Generous and inviting living spaces were key, while keeping the bedrooms and other spaces fairly compact in order to fit the whole program on a relatively modest lot.

The old detached garage was transformed into an Additional Dwelling Unit, and a new garage addition, added at the opposite end and aligned with the ADU,  allowed us to create an entry courtyard that is publicly visible and facing the street. The revived rock garden in the central courtyard, freshly rearranged and curated by a local Japanese garden master, was envisioned as the key organizing element for the primarily living spaces. While the living room stayed in its original location, the dining room and kitchen were enlarged and moved to be oriented towards the beautiful garden, with wide multi-panel glass doors opening up to the sound of rustling leaves and a gently cascading water feature. Wide, low-slung wood decks (inspired by the Japanese “engawa”, or elevated walkway) and deep wood-clad roof soffits hug the edges of the yard and expand the living spaces, framing views, and blurring the boundaries between inside and outside. The rear garden features a larger, more open yard, while a planted dividing wall shields the principal bedroom addition and private deck from view.

While striving for a timeless, Japanese-inspired design, this project also boasts the latest in sustainability: hidden away are a full array of PV panels, an energy storage system, and electric vehicle chargers. And best of all, the house is equipped with enough flexibility to be enjoyed by the family and their loved ones for many years to come.