A Design Expert Makes Space for Tools and Memories

This article is part of our last Special design report, which is to expand the possibilities of your home.

Building the house of your dreams is a wonderful thing. But what happens when the dream changes?

Just ask David Kelley, the founder of global design company IDEO. In 2000, he became one of only three people in the United States to own a house designed by Ettore Sottsass, the legendary Italian architect, industrial designer and founder of the postmodern design collective Memphis whose name refers to both Ancient Egypt and Elvis Presley.

The 6,000-square-foot Silicon Valley home, a group of separate pavilions connected by a glass atrium, was designed with Marco Zanini, a partner of Sottsass Associati, and featured in several magazines, as well as in a 2001 article in The New York Times. But in 2018, Mr. Kelley sold the house. “My whole life has been long,” he said, “but I’m 70 and trying to make my life easier.”

This goal included proximity to the Stanford University campus, where, in addition to his work at IDEO, Mr. Kelley taught design for 42 years at the engineering school, and where he founded the Hasso Plattner. Institute of Design, known as the d.school. He bought a much smaller house in an enclave on campus reserved exclusively for Stanford faculty. “I just wanted something cheaper,” he says. “The living room in the old house was the size of the whole new house.” He also wanted a studio, in which to do things, and keep some of his huge collections of – well, all kinds of things, including later.

But cheaper didn’t mean not designed. For that, Mr. Kelley turned to two people he knew well. Mark Jensen, the founder of San Francisco firm Jensen Architects, designed IDEO’s offices in Palo Alto and San Francisco, as well as projects like the rooftop terrace of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and a tower in collaboration with artist Ann Hamilton.

Johanna Grawunder, artist and designer who creates installations using light, as well as real fixtures and furniture for companies like Flos and Glas Italia, worked with Sottsass for 16 years (including 12 as a partner in her company) , during which time she designed the lighting for Mr. Kelley’s former home. (Mr Jensen and Ms Grawunder have been a couple for 20 years, and although she was a consultant light artist for some of her projects, the two had only had one major collaboration, in their weekend home. in Sonoma County.)

“It was a very modest, generic California ranch surrounded by beautiful trees,” Jensen recalls. “Our approach was more about subtraction – what else can we take away?” While the interior of two bedrooms was gutted and the living room was open and resembled a loft, the exterior, with its asphalt roof and weathered vertical plywood siding – now painted in dark gray – was left in full force. part unchanged. A new garage door is flush with the exterior wall, to “tone down” its “traditional primacy,” Jensen said. And a wide cedar pivot front door adds a striking design element. The San Francisco firm Surfacedesign was responsible for the verdant landscape; Ms Grawunder said it improves the flow between indoors and outdoors.

As you walk through the entrance, there’s a light-up piece of Mrs. Grawunder on one wall, and a factory manhole cover that makes them for Stanford – a keepsake from one of Mr. Kelley’s students – is placed in the brick floor. An atrium with comfortable furniture and retractable shade sails leads to the kitchen and living room, and has proven useful during the pandemic for safe outdoor gatherings.

Inside the house, Jensen added skylights with large trapezoidal openings to maximize daylight and installed sliding glass doors. The floors are reclaimed wood that Ms. Grawunder and Mr. Kelley found, salvaged from a submerged jetty in San Francisco Bay; Mr. Jensen called its contrasts of light and dark “on the verge of confusion.” The kitchen, with its pistachio green walls, has a central island that serves more for gathering than for cooking. It also has a cedar slat wall that slides to the left to conceal the shelves, or to the right to conceal Mr. Kelley’s bedroom, just outside of which is one of Sottsass’s Tartar consoles for Memphis.

Other Sottsass rooms in the old house include a dining table, which Mr. Kelley had cut and painted black; shelves in the living room and the dining room; a Beverly sideboard, also for Memphis, in the living room; and a large totem pole in the covered passage between the living room and the studio. The dining chairs were designed by Naoto Fukasawa, who is renowned for his furniture, but who previously worked at IDEO, and opened his Tokyo office in 1996.

Ms Grawunder, who redesigned the existing house and worked with Mr Kelley on furniture placement, called her role in the project “essential and minimal – essential because of my friendship with David, since when I worked on the Sottsass house. She designed a small U-shaped outdoor seating area with a high cedar fence outside the sliding glass door to Mr. Kelley’s bedroom, as she had no privacy from the room. street. Its floor is covered with mint green glazed bricks used in a courtyard of the Sottsass house. Ms. Grawunder called the house “a living organism”, the studio being “the heart of the matter”.

The studio, which is right behind the house, “is who I am,” Mr. Kelley said. The “organized mess” in the 25-foot-high space includes objects like tools and bicycles, which “evoke a story or recall a memory”. Its unusual shape was not part of the original design, which was a glass box, and was rejected by planners at Stanford, who said the building was to have a pitched roof and wood cladding – “which led to something more interesting, ”said Mr Dit Jensen. He designed a cedar rain screen – a waterproof membrane with eastern red cedar planks over it – that makes one side of the roof look like it keeps moving, down and out. . (A separate workshop, for activities like sawing and drilling, is tucked away behind the garage.) “The project has grown from a renovation stage to that of an actual work complex. Or village, ”Ms. Grawunder said.

Credit…Matthew millman

Mr. Kelley’s attachment to meaningful possessions is embodied in the assembly of things – including, but not limited to, his grandmother’s matchstick holder, a clutch pedal from the Caterpillar factory where he worked as a student, his childhood sled and the Ohio. his family’s car license plates – which are mounted on an atrium wall and framed. In his minimalist white bathroom, there is a photograph of Ruth Orkin from Albert Einstein “that I have had in my bathrooms since 1988,” he says.

When Sottsass was designing the old house, Mr. Kelley wanted to bring in some of his collections (which also include vintage tractors, pickup trucks and sports cars, like the 1961 Mercedes 300SL convertible now parked in his driveway.) But Sottsass has refused. “I’m going to build you a house for now,” he said, so Mr. Kelley stored his collections in a barn on the property. “I didn’t want his big ideas watered down by a kid in Ohio,” Kelley recalls.

“It was Picasso, and who was I to say he should put more green in the picture?” Yet the maestro, who died in 2007, might have considered that someone whose head is very much in the present (and the future) could also have a heart that cherishes the past.

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