Palo Alto Residence, Palo Alto, Calif.Architect: CCS Architecture, San Francisco

Builder: K Welton Inc., Palo Alto

Architect Cass Calder Smith confesses surprise when he reports that there have been no complaints from the neighbors about this very modern house, even though it’s located in an established neighborhood on a street lined with traditional houses. Built on a corner lot with a breezeway entry that can be seen from the street, the house isn’t exactly hidden by hedgerows. But it’s that very visibility that makes the house “a tiny bit public, less introverted,” says Smith, and, in turn, more warm and approachable. “I don’t like to walk straight to a façade with a front door,” he adds. A better alternative, Smith says, are side entries, which are able to create what he refers to as “psychological warmth.”

That warm vibe continues throughout the home, which began with the idea of using rammed earth walls to provide an earthy softness. Other materials play nicely off those walls: white oak on the interior and ipe on the exterior. Smith reinforced the idea of warmth by ensuring that light would bounce off the wood surfaces.

Ample windows may provide lots of natural light during the day, but they can be cold when the sun goes down, “turning them into black holes at night,” Smith observes. He cites homes with waterfront views as posing special challenges where that’s concerned. But in this snug lot, that visual chill was avoided by making sure the landscaping was well-illuminated.

Most modern homes have open floor plans, which don’t feel as cozy as traditional homes do. But building in boundaries to delineate rooms, such as defining the ceiling planes, varying floor levels, and creating a sequence of solid and open spaces, is a way to add a sense of enclosure. In this house, visual variety enhances its warm, friendly feel.

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Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA.