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This Los Gatos House Is Tall, Dark, and Charred

An ethereal home is artfully toasted.


The charredwood addition provides a stark contrast to the original low-slung home. “We wanted it to be bold, like a punctuation mark at the end of the house,” says architect Neal Schwartz.

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The architects spent considerable time mulling over the view of the stairway from the deck.

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In the kitchen, the stove and countertops appear to float.

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The light-flooded bedroom opens to an outdoor patio.

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“It’s very dramatic,” says Schwartz of the open-air shower. “You’re really hovering above the trees.”

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Two shou-sugi-ban doors lead to the bedrooms of the owners’ teenage daughters.

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In the family room, detailing around the 12-by- 9-foot glass wall was kept to a minimum, “almost as if the house had been just sheared off at the end,” says Schwartz.

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Perched high above Silicon Valley, this sprawling Los Gatos home literally emerged from the flames. The wood ceiling was roasted to a toasty hue, accent walls were burned to a rich brown, and the exterior siding was charred an ashy black. In addition to creating a dramatic effect, shou-sugi-ban—a Japanese technique that loosely translates to “burned cedar board”—makes the home more fireproof and weather-resistant.

Because the house resides at the crest of a hill, “we wanted something bold and textural,” says Neal Schwartz of Schwartz and Architecture, who was hired to remodel the home. The owners, a married couple with two teenage daughters, longed for more space, but there was little room to expand the home’s existing footprint. So Schwartz went vertical, building a wood-swathed, two-story addition onto the original low-slung abode. The dark hue of its facade was inspired by the surrounding forested, rocky terrain. “We started thinking of the addition as a boulder, holding down the end of the house,” says Schwartz.

Though the home may appear stony from the outside, the effect within is the polar opposite: airy and ethereal. The kitchen countertops and stove appear to float above the floor, uninhibited by cabinetry. In the shower, a glass door swings open to reveal the woods below. The new family room—formerly a separate bedroom—faces a 12-by-9-foot pane of glass. The simple detailing and clean lines around the massive window lend the impression that the room is open to the air.

The focal point of the shou-sugi-ban addition is the sculptural staircase that leads from the living room up to the guest bedroom and bathroom. “We took a lot of effort to make the stair as minimal as possible,” says Schwartz. “We wanted it to feel light in the room.” From the deck, the painted-steel and walnut structure appears suspended in air. Upstairs, the bedroom is an overlook in itself, with views across Silicon Valley. It’s almost like a tree house, says Schwartz, “but rather than branches, it’s surrounded by charred wood.”


Originally published in the January issue of San Francisco

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