Living Lab

Mark Jensen and Johanna Grawunder have designed the new home of the designer and entrepreneur David Kelley in Stanford. A sequence of free spaces and open-air rooms that culminates in a spectacular double-height studio

The regeneration of the existing building stock is a topical subject of worldwide interest. It has been given a strong impetus by the climate emergency, but it is the organic nature of constructed space itself that requires continual transformation. The fact is that buildings often change both their owners and the uses to which they are put. A paradigmatic example of this is the new home of David Kelley, founder of the legendary IDEO design studio and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at the University of Stanford (also known as the ‘d.school’). In 2000 Ettore Sottsass, a close friend, had designed a house for him in Silicon Valley, the only work of the Italian designer and architect on the West Coast. The new residence in Stanford, very different from the last, bears the signature of Mark Jensen (Jensen Architects) and his partner in life Johanna Grawunder, who worked with Sottsass in Milan for sixteen years.

The gently sloping ramp invites entry through a pivoting steel door, set in a façade clad with cedar wood. The little aeroplane on the right belongs to Kelley’s collection of models. (ph. Marion Brenner) The gently sloping ramp invites entry through a pivoting steel door, set in a façade clad with cedar wood. The little aeroplane on the right belongs to Kelley’s collection of models. (ph. Marion Brenner)
David Kelley’s studio pavilion is the architectural endpoint of the spatial sequence that starts at the entrance and runs all the way through the lot. (ph. Matthew Millman) David Kelley’s studio pavilion is the architectural endpoint of the spatial sequence that starts at the entrance and runs all the way through the lot. (ph. Matthew Millman)
The passage between the house and the cedar-wood clad pavilion where David Kelley does his design and research work. (ph. Matthew Millman) The passage between the house and the cedar-wood clad pavilion where David Kelley does his design and research work. (ph. Matthew Millman)
The symbolic heart of the house is the semi-open courtyard, created by the reconfiguration of the original plan and protected by a retractable textile roof. Sofas Kabà by Paola Lenti. (ph. Matthew Millman) The symbolic heart of the house is the semi-open courtyard, created by the reconfiguration of the original plan and protected by a retractable textile roof. Sofas Kabà by Paola Lenti. (ph. Matthew Millman)
The interior of the pavilion built of fretted sheet metal has a pronounced verticality, its upper part occupied by books and objects. Soft Pad Chair by the Eames, Vitra. (ph. Matthew Millman) The interior of the pavilion built of fretted sheet metal has a pronounced verticality, its upper part occupied by books and objects. Soft Pad Chair by the Eames, Vitra. (ph. Matthew Millman)
The redesign of the plan has generated a completely open space, with a single fitted wall unit that marks the kitchen zone. The island of Corian is custom-built. (ph. Matthew Millman) The redesign of the plan has generated a completely open space, with a single fitted wall unit that marks the kitchen zone. The island of Corian is custom-built. (ph. Matthew Millman)
Ettore Sottsass’s ‘Beverly’ sideboard for Memphis. (ph. Matthew Millman) Ettore Sottsass’s ‘Beverly’ sideboard for Memphis. (ph. Matthew Millman)
The large skylight fills the dining room with diffuse light. Custom-built table, ‘Hiroshima’ chairs by Naoto Fukasawa for Maruni. (ph. Matthew Millman) The large skylight fills the dining room with diffuse light. Custom-built table, ‘Hiroshima’ chairs by Naoto Fukasawa for Maruni. (ph. Matthew Millman)
The master bedroom is accessible from the common areas through a sliding wooden wall running from floor to ceiling and divided into three sections. In the foreground, Ettore Sottsass’s ‘Tartar’ table for Memphis. (ph. Matthew Millman) The master bedroom is accessible from the common areas through a sliding wooden wall running from floor to ceiling and divided into three sections. In the foreground, Ettore Sottsass’s ‘Tartar’ table for Memphis. (ph. Matthew Millman)
The architects have inserted a semicircular patio open to the sky in the original perimeter of the house which is accessible exclusively from the bedroom. (ph. Matthew Millman) The architects have inserted a semicircular patio open to the sky in the original perimeter of the house which is accessible exclusively from the bedroom. (ph. Matthew Millman)
A portrait of Johanna Grawunder and Mark Jensen. (ph. Matthew Millman) A portrait of Johanna Grawunder and Mark Jensen. (ph. Matthew Millman)
Ground-floor plan 1. Entrance; 2. Courtyard; 3. Kitchen; 4. Dining room; 5. Living room; 6. Laundry; 7. Bathroom; 8. Bedroom; 9. Master bedroom; 10. Master bathroom; 11. Patio; 12. Workshop; 13. Art studio; 14. Garage Ground-floor plan 1. Entrance; 2. Courtyard; 3. Kitchen; 4. Dining room; 5. Living room; 6. Laundry; 7. Bathroom; 8. Bedroom; 9. Master bedroom; 10. Master bathroom; 11. Patio; 12. Workshop; 13. Art studio; 14. Garage

A rural building from the 1950s, typical of the region and lacking any particular quality, occupied the site on a corner lot in the residential zone of the Stanford campus reserved for teachers. The original L-shaped plan had an interior filled with partitions for functional subdivisions. Kelley, a client with vast experience in the field of design, wanted instead a spatially significant residence. To meet his needs a new volume has been added, with the high degree of caution required by building regulations that have been framed to maintain the stylistic homogeneity of the area. The Surfacedesign landscapers have been called on to restructure the external area: the graphic treatment of the ground acts as a strong complement to the architecture. Colour, seasonal variation, minimal maintenance and an effort to blend in with the surrounding vegetation have guided the choices made for the progression from outside to inside.

The passage between the house and the cedar-wood clad pavilion where David Kelley does his design and research work. (ph. Matthew Millman)
The passage between the house and the cedar-wood clad pavilion where David Kelley does his design and research work. (ph. Matthew Millman)

The new residence is built on the original footprint of the foundations and has preserved the geometry of the roofs, but the interior has been gutted to generate an open plan. By extending the garage used as a modelling workshop lengthwise, the architects have created an open-air room, the true heart of domestic life, accessible from the road through a majestic pivoting door. This unexpected transparency of the interiors reveals the hub of the design’s conception: Kelley’s studio, a massive, double-height linear volume located a few metres away from the house but visible from every corner of it. The tension between these two masses (horizontal and vertical) has a powerful impact on the architectural experience. The master of the house regards this pavilion with a steel core and clad in cedar wood as a manifesto of his research philosophy. Characterized by a steeply inclined plane, its details display a rare tectonic refinement. In this magical space his collecting, organizing and experimenting through iteration, his sharing and conversing find an almost antique dimension. Like in a Renaissance workshop, but with an added value: the subliminal presence of Ettore Sottsass’s irony.

A portrait of Johanna Grawunder and Mark Jensen. (ph. Matthew Millman)
A portrait of Johanna Grawunder and Mark Jensen. (ph. Matthew Millman)

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