Community January 29, 2015

Los Altos Hills Couple Updates Ranch-Style Gem

Written by Carolyn Snyder – Special to the Town Crier

The phrase “all in the family” applies to the Los Altos Hills home lovingly renovated by Ava and Alan Eagle.

Alan grew up in the house, built in 1964 on a wooded hillside – an idyllic setting with a creek bordering the back of the 1-acre lot. When his parents, Joanne and Alan Sr., moved to The Forum at Rancho San Antonio a few years ago, it was decided that Ava and Alan would keep the house in the family and make it their own.

The younger Eagles sold their contemporary Mackay home in Palo Alto and moved into a rental while the ranch-style house was transformed. It was two years in the planning and permitting stage and one year under construction.

The goal was to create a fresh new house suited to the Eagles’ active lifestyle. Alan, director of executive communications at Google Inc., and Ava, a registered nurse and clinical researcher, have two children, William, 17, and Anderson, 14.

“I love to cook and have the kids around,” Ava said. “And I wanted to open up the house as much as possible.”

She and Alan also wanted his parents to “love it.”

Mission accomplished, thanks to architect Joe Gutierrez of Architectural Alliance in Sunnyvale, Acton Construction in Campbell and landscape architect Carolyn Ordonez of Menlo Park.

“We could not tear down the original house and had to accomplish the transformation using the same foundation and virtually the same roof,” Gutierrez said. “Working around these issues was our biggest challenge.”

Bringing the outdoors in

Because of the house’s age and design, structural and aesthetic problems were inevitable. For instance, the living room fireplace had to be rebuilt from the ground up. And the lower level of the split-level house was reconfigured to make better use of the space.

“We blew up the center of the house and rebuilt it,” said Ava, who was adamant about the windows and the kitchen, which became focal points of the remodel.

The resultant great room has a folding patio door system that literally brings the outdoors in. And from her open kitchen, Ava can keep an eye on the pool area, where the teenagers like to gather. Furniture groupings delineate the dining and seating areas.

At one end of the room is a 7-foot-wide fireplace with a limestone mantel and surround. Driftwood and rocks – some heart-shaped – add interest to the gas fire behind the glass screen. (Ava collects “heart” stones but claims that they find her. They pop up everywhere around the house.)

At the other end of the room, stairs lead up to the living room.

“I wanted the wall that separates the living room from the great room to look like it was cut with a mat knife. In other words, the wall was precisely cut to create a large opening to see into the great room,” Gutierrez explained. “Horizontal pieces of the wall were left in place to use as a guardrail. Glass between the horizontal pieces provides light transmission, a little visual mystery and code compliance.”

Throughout the house, view-framing windows and four skylights provide abundant natural light as well as ambience.

“We loved listening to the rain on the roof in our Mackay home, and the skylights here create the same effect,” Ava said.

In the slate-gray entry hall, a skylight in the soaring ceiling illuminates a stately grouping of branches cut from birch trees on the property. Other elements from nature are part of the home’s decor.

A restful color palette in shades of gray and blue is the perfect foil for the European white-oak floors and maple cabinetry and paneling.

The “new” house can be described as Craftsman-meets-California ranch. It is nearly 4,000 square feet, including the garage. The latter has an electric charging station and special nook for a wine refrigerator.

Three bedrooms and a new laundry room are on the lower level of the house. The master suite is off the living room and has a sitting area and bath that appear nestled in the tree tops.

On the main level, off the great room, is an office shared by the family. Ava picked up a book from a stack on the desk and said, with pride, “This is Alan’s book.” Titled “How Google Works,” it was co-written by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan and published last September.

Perhaps the next book could be “How to Transform an Aging House into an Architectural Gem.”