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Natural Instincts

By Megan Drueding – William S. Duff Jr. , AIA, and his clients approached ecofriendliness in a holistic way at the Wheeler Residence in Menlo Park, Calif. They wanted the entire house, including the kitchen, to reflect a subtle yet strong environmental commitment — one that happily co-existed with the architecture. “The key notion of the project is that sustainability is fully integrated into the design of the home,” Duff says.

To that end, he created an L-shaped, freestanding wall that carves out room for the kitchen at the center of the house. Because it sits within a large, open space, the wall also serves to define a normal living room and a main circulation spine. It stops about 2 feet below the ceiling, allowing natural breezes to waft over the kitchen and up through a cooling tower in the adjacent family room. And the wall’s lowered height lets ample daylight into the space, lessening the need for electric lighting. Another key element of Duff’s sustainable approach—a radiant heat system powered
by a rooftop solar array—is embedded in floors of stained flyash concrete. The kitchen cabinetry and millwork consist of a mahogany veneer on a 98 percent recycled core, and all appliances are Energy Star–rated.

Like most modern families, the clients desired a casual dining area in the kitchen. So Duff’s team cleverly attached an engineered stone table at a 90 degree angle to the taller island, made of the same material. The effect suggests an angular waterfall, and the table neatly divides the kitchen from the family room. “The idea is that you get the same cascading volumes in the kitchen as elsewhere in the house,” Duff explains.

Teak Experience

Like the kitchen in this Menlo Park, Calif., house, the master bath boasts a strong connection to the outdoors. Architect William S. Duff Jr., AIA, placed it next to a private master suite garden that uses a wooden fence and lush landscaping to block the neighbors’ view. Glass accordion doors fold back to link the bathtub and vanity area to the garden any time the clients wish. When they crave additional privacy, they can close the doors and pull down built-in shades. The room draws plenty of cross-ventilation via the large garden opening and an opposite-side doorway leading from the master suite hallway to the home’s backyard.

Duff chose materials that convey a sense of harmony and order. Soothing green glass tiles clad the freestanding tub, the vanity backsplash, and the shower walls, continuing all the way up to the ceiling and even extending to the strip of wall above the accordion doors. Slate tile flooring echoes the gray engineered quartz vanity top, which matches the kitchen counters.

The slate segues into a series of teak slats that start just outside the shower enclosure and envelop the tub. They’re spaced slightly apart and sit atop a hidden dropout and drain for collecting excess water, “so you can step out of the bath or shower and drip,” Duff explains. He and his team kept the slats going right up the wall on the far side of the tub. The combination of earthy teak and glossy tile achieves a perfect blend of warm and cool tones, making the bath an ideal place to relax and unwind.

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Wheeler Residence

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