Even architect Dan Spiegel can't come up with a specific term to describe the Menlo Park home he designed for his parents.
"The style?" he says, shrugging at the question during a recent preview of the house, which is part of today's Silicon Valley Modern Home Tour. "I tend to tell people in a really unsatisfying way it's contemporary architecture," he says. "It's related to elements of the California ranch and the barn tower idea but also Japanese elements of simplicity, exposed natural materials. ... It's hard to pinpoint a genre."
Well, if "stunning" counts as a style, that category certainly defines this place. Massive windows lure the outside in. Warm cedar and Douglas fir interior walls feel more like shawls around your shoulders than outlines of a confined space. (See the architect's slide show of the home, with images by Bruce Damonte, at www.archdaily.com/493051/cotton-street-residence-spiegel-aihara-workshop.)
The four-level "tower" and roof deck, built toward the front of the property, somehow seem a mere two stories in some sort of magical, bigger-on-the-inside effect -- à la Dr. Who's Tardis time machine.
The Spiegel home is one of five equally amazing creations on the $60 self-guided tour, which takes modern design lovers around the Peninsula and south into Saratoga.
Ingrid Spencer, former managing editor for Architectural Record magazine, selected the sites with her trained eye for modernism and a homegrown love for California style, having grown up in Sunnyvale around Eichler developments with an appreciation for the streamlined and the stylistic.
"It's the modern residential architecture in California from the middle of the last century and on that remains, for me, the pinnacle of a perfect modern house," she says.
In fact, two homes on the tour are remodeled Eichlers in Palo Alto. One, originally built in 1950 in the Green Gables neighborhood, was expanded and completely remodeled in 2012 by Designs for Living. The other, renovated by M110 Architecture, was brought up to date and "repurposed throughout," Spencer says.
A third midcentury-modern house in Palo Alto, also updated by M110, made the tour thanks to its "bookend-type additions front and back," Spencer says. Finally, the last home is tucked in the Saratoga foothills, built by WA Design and made up of smaller buildings joined by glassed-in walks and vaulted roof structures.
For the Menlo Park house, honoring the location and the community really hit home for Dan Spiegel. After all, it's the property where he grew up.
"We lived here in a Cliff May kit house," says Spiegel of SAW, the Spiegel Aihara Workshop. "It had been modified over the years, and wasn't fancy, but we loved the inside-out feel. We pretty much lived outdoors in the summer. I really wanted to expand on that idea."
He and his parents, David Spiegel and Helen Blau, both professors at the Stanford School of Medicine, considered renovation but ultimately opted for a complete rebuild. And they're all glad they did.
"It is so open," David Spiegel says. "We feel outdoors when we are indoors, and indoors when we are outside it. The kitchen is in the middle of everything but virtually disappears when you are not using it. The house shows you what it is. The structure is completely visible -- wood, glass, slate and steel."
In an area where property values have spurred homeowners and developers to take advantage of every inch of land and build so-called "McMansions," Dan Spiegel instead incorporated as much nature as possible. The gardens were designed by his wife, landscape architect Megumi Aihara, who brought in water-wise natives, delicate Japanese maples, guava, fig, pomegranates and flowers around the existing pool.
Indeed, the house, completed in 2013, is a standout of simplicity on a street of bulked-up ranch styles. The cedar siding evokes everything from a cabin in the woods to a Frank Lloyd Wright design.
Where the old home was about 3,400 square feet, the new is about 4,500, including the garage. It's technically three bedrooms and three and a half baths, but can convert to five bedrooms in a flash. An office and a sitting area easily become more guest rooms.
The tower is primarily a guest area. "Rooms are used only occasionally. We stacked them up to be very dense and minimize the footprint," Spiegel says.
Still, the central area of the home is the visual star, blending living room, kitchen and office into one big loftlike space, separated only by two bold, black chimney stacks. And of course, it's all about the windows. Massive 10-by-10-foot sliding glass doors open off each side of the living room, allowing the outside to flow through. There are moments when it seems no walls exist at all, the roof perhaps merely floating atop the chimneys.
"The extensive glass gives the feeling that you live in the midst of greenery and beautiful trees all the time," Blau says. "And the new house in the same site as the old house is amazing. It's so different, far beyond anything I could have imagined."
Modern Home Tour
Featuring five Silicon Valley residences
Tourgoers provide their own transportation.
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
Where: One home in Menlo Park, three in Palo Alto and one in Saratoga
Tickets: $60, free ages 11 and younger; tour map available at http://modernhometours.com/event/modern-home-tour-conjunction-silicon-valley-contemporary; tickets available at any of the homes.
Also: Tour tickets include entry to an Architect and Designer Meet-and-Greet at the Silicon Valley Contemporary Art Fair's VIP Lounge, 4:30-5:30 p.m. Saturday; and access to the Silicon Valley Contemporary Art Fair, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday; San Jose McEnery Convention Center, 150 W. San Carlos St., San Jose