Lalit Kapoor's interest in architecture started as a child watching his eye surgeon father direct the building of hospitals in his native India. A successful engineer and businessman, Kapoor and his wife Papli raised their two daughters in a contemporary family home in Lafayette. But once the girls were grown Kapoor decided to indulge this life-long passion for architecture by building their dream home. The couple bought a lot in Danville, hired an architect and drew up plans for a Mediterranean-style home that would fit in with the surrounding houses. Then a trip back to India had Kapoor thinking second thoughts.
"We were in India shopping for stones for the new home, but something kept bothering me.
While looking through architecture books at Builders Booksource in Berkeley he came upon "Livable Modern" by Emeryville architect Robert Swatt and was attracted to the warm but modern feeling of the homes Swatt had designed. After two weeks of talking over preliminary sketches and models with Swatt, Kapoor knew he was the right architect for the job. "The property is incredible - you can see all five Bay Area bridges and Mount Diablo from the site - so we worked closely together to design a house that opened up to the views and was flexible in its design," says Swatt. "The design is quite complex, but we worked to make it look very simple so it didn't compete with the views.
The resulting three-story, 8100 square foot house was designed using a minimal materials palette of concrete, mahogany, limestone, stainless steel and stucco. It was designed so that the Kapoors can be comfortable living on their own on the top level but still be connected to the lower levels that can accommodate visits from children, their extended family or other guests. The entrance to the home begins at the elegant motor court that also doubles as an outdoor entertaining area presided over by a black marble statue of a dancing Ganesh. A sleek stone staircase ascends to the top level where a wooden bridge crosses a black rock-lined pool of water that cascades down to the motor court.
The gridded glass and khaya wood front doors open into a gracious living room with a floating mahogany ceiling and Halila limestone floors. All of the limestone comes from one quarry and the wood from a single tree in order to keep variations in color and pattern to a minimum. The exquisite woodwork was executed by Mansour Ghanbari of Berkeley's Ghanbari Designs. Sleek stainless steel door pulls were designed by Kapoor and created by Emeryville's Michael Wentworth. Much of the casework in the home was also designed by Kapoor and built by Ghanbari. Contemporary upholstered pieces were custom built by Santa Monica's Viesso or acquired at Arkitektura in San Francisco. Most of the vibrant artwork in the home was created by the Kapoors' daughter, artist Namita Kapoor.
"We wanted to make sure that the house wasn't too 'flashy,'" says Kapoor. "I find that when there are a lot of things in a house, it takes away from the beauty of a good design." The lighting in the house was also designed with an eye to complex simplicity. Consulting with lighting guru Randall Whitehead, the Kapoors chose to use LED spotlights that are trimless and recessed in such a way that they don't draw attention. Nevertheless, the lighting system (Homeworks by Lutron) is so sophisticated that it can be controlled with an iPhone from any room in the house - or across the world, if desired.
"Anywhere you have access to the internet you can listen to your music, watch home videos, or look at photographs," says Kapoor. "We can be in Bombay and tie into the house system to look at family photos." Opening the house to the world outside isn't only by way of high-tech systems. Each room incorporates windows, sliding doors and terraces rimmed with seamless glass panel railings to allow an unobstructed 330-degree view stretching from Mt. Diablo to Mt. Tamalpais. "We can see sunrise to sunset from our house - it's magnificent to watch the entire sky turn such beautiful colors," says Kapoor.
The access to the views is particularly striking in the kitchen where large pocket doors allow the entire corner of the room to completely disappear. Then the limestone floors of the Scavolini kitchen, with its cream and café au lait glass front cabinets and heated Caesarstone countertop, continue out to the edge of the terrace where a pair of Henry Hall sofas invites reflection. "Once the doors are open you really don't know where the inside ends and the outside begins," says Swatt. "You feel like you're floating on top of the world - it's very dramatic." And yet, when the couple wants to create a cozier feeling in the rooms, the sliding doors placed throughout the home can be reconfigured for more intimacy. For example, the door between the kitchen and the living room can be closed to provide privacy for Papli as she finishes meal preparations while Lalit entertains guests in the living room. A sliding wall transforms the couple's daily meditation room into a casual sitting room off the upper terrace when guests arrive. And a nine-foot projection screen installed in the sliding master bedroom door allows the Kapoors to turn their bedroom into a private media room so they don't need to go downstairs to the public media room when they want to watch a movie.
"Lalit's vision was to make every room multi-functional," says Swatt. "We worked together to create a flexible design that would accommodate the family's different needs and uses today and tomorrow.
Randall Whitehead Lighting Inc.
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