Box House

The Box House replaces one of several California-modern homes built in a 1950’s planned development in Portola Valley, California. This neighborhood was laced with walking trails and mature landscape that helped separate the closely sited dwellings that were based on a style celebrating inside/outside qualities of living. Within this constructed environment, fabricated on conventional mid-twentieth century notion of “modern living,” the house found itself in direct dialogue with past and contemporary notions of landscape, dwelling, and the functions of the “modern” home.

Existing house

The interaction of public and private space within the home – always a programmatic concern – was heightened in this case. Yet the clients also desired privacy from the surrounding neighborhood while opening the house to desirable landscape elements. The challenge was then to provide privacy within the house from the outside neighborhood while allowing for free flowing public spaces. Public spaces engage and create an active dialogue with both distance landscape views and the temperate Northern Californian climate.

Street facade, Photo by Tim Griffith

The solution that emerged was a 2900 square foot house focused on the architectural articulation of its public and private spaces as well as its materials. An elevated volume of bedrooms is contained within a wood clad box. The box is rotated on the site annexing the space of an adjacent easement. Held above the public spaces of the house, the bedrooms are located relative to the view in and out to the site. Hillside views are framed while the views to the neighborhood are blocked and filtered by the detailing of the wood screen.

The wood box is structured by a series of linear site walls that stretch the length of the site. These richly colored plaster piers create a distinct directional field across the site that becomes the walls of the living, dining and studio spaces on the lower level. An infill window and panel system completes the enclosure while allowing for large openings to the garden and terrace areas.

In the end, the Box House responds to its individual site and clients’ needs, as well as to the typical suburban conditions. Overall, the public and private spaces of the house come together.

Section and Plan


~ by Open Form Architecture on April 11, 2007.

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