Architect Mark English first started drafting plans for a remodel of this Los Altos Hills home 10 years ago. "The original house was a small, strange little '50s structure with a prow-shaped living room that happened to sit on a lot with a spectacular view that stretched from Oakland to South San Jose," says English. "You felt like you were on the edge of civilization when you looked out at the view."

Eventually, English and his client decided they would scrap the remodeling plans and start from scratch. "I hate to tear buildings down, but the structure had probably been sliding down the hill since the '60s. It needed major structural work so we decided to just start over." The new home has a free-flowing layout that matches the client's desire to entertain. A central public area was designed as a great room with two private bedroom wings on either side. "I saw this as an entity that might take flight," says English of the stucco and ledge-stone house. "You really get that sensation when you're out on the ipe wood entertainment terrace."

Walking in the sandblasted glass front door, you're struck by two significant design elements - the big windows and the massive fireplace. Because the view through the commercial grade windows is so dramatic, English knew that the fireplace would need to be dramatic to hold its own. "One of my pet peeves is when fireplaces are unattractive and don't fit the space," he says, so he designed a fireplace "wall" made out of the same ledge stone used on the exterior of the house.


Then he created a long, low 12 x 2-foot hearth filled with flame emitters that was inspired by a similar fireplace in the W hotels.

English defined the adjacent dining room space through its coffered ceiling. "It separates out the space and cues you that something different is happening here." A circular light fixture by YLighting "pins down" the dining room table and provides a sense of stability in the open space.
Before and after bedroom photos
(Before photography courtesy of Mark English Architect.)

The kitchen provides a vibrant pop of color with its orange and gray cabinets from Schuller topped with white Caesarstone. Overscale white porcelain tiles are set straight into the sheetrock so that there isn't a need to use bull nose or other trim details. "We didn't want an all white kitchen," says English. "We wanted to make a statement; we didn't want to be meek." Most of the appliances and the workspace are on one side of the central island so that the owner can efficiently prepare food while her guests are conversing on the other side. "It's definitely a kitchen designed for a cook who likes to entertain," English adds. The walls in the kitchen and throughout the house are painted a crisp white. Bamboo flooring - "renewable but also more clean visually" - and trimless walls complete the great room's design. "The owner wanted to keep things simple, drawing on contemporary Japanese and European design for inspiration."

Regarding the clean lines of the structure, English gives credit to San Jose contractor Mark De Mattei. "In order to create a contemporary home like this you need a talented builder who gets every detail right from the beginning," says English. "You can't use molding down the road to cover up mistakes."

The more private family room on the non-view side of the house features a high narrow window that lines up with the lowered ceiling. Its deliberate placement allows light into the room while blocking the view of the adjacent driveway.
kitchen from Dickies house
(Before photography courtesy of Mark English Architect.)
Here, a smaller fireplace surrounded with the same white Caesarstone that was used in the kitchen creates an intimate feeling. English designed the family room to be perfectly square. "Square rooms are very comfortable, stable and calm. Some spaces create activity, this space creates a feeling of calm."

He designed the master bedroom to be almost square as well. A separate interior wall folds out over the bed giving the impression of a built-in canopy. Combined with the treetop view, the design of the room exudes a feeling of enclosure and protection. "It was clear from the beginning of this project that the view outside was the most important aspect of the design." "With view houses, our mantra is always 'keep it simple.'"


Mark De Mattei

Mark English Architects

*Before photography courtesy of Mark English Architect.