The street-side facade of the house has the appearance of a country French manor, while the classical loggia overlooking the lake looks more southern European in style. What was the thought process behind this style shift?
The design of this house follows the idea of no preconception. The process was informed more by intuition than any rigid program of style. For the street-side facade, I worked in a Norman provincial style, which has an intimate, human quality. Without consciously choosing to work in another style, I imagined a classical loggia overlooking the lake. This is an extroverted element that really engages the landscape. Even though it’s not very large, the loggia feels monumental. These ideas, the turret overlooking the courtyard, the loggia facing the lake, arose from my subconscious, from the archetypal language of architecture. When I presented the drawings for the house, one of the owners said, I always wanted a house with a turret. This made me realize that when one follows one’s intuition, without any preconceived notions, one can arrive at a solution that feels right.
This house seems to be about passages that mark a fluid journey from the street through the house to the lake. What are some of the ways you define those passages, and to what effect?
The moment you come through the gate into the front courtyard, you enter a completely different world. This is not a fake Disney experience, it’s a real experience, like a waking dream. There is a lot of antique material in the house, the stone and cabochon floor in the entrance hall and the paneling in the dining room, which we assembled to look as if it had actually been made for the room. The materials are not all from the same place or the same time period or style. This creates a kind of loosening of reality, a relaxing. I also used many different ceiling heights and treatments in each room. There is a plaster barrel vault in the entrance hall, an oak beam ceiling with carved brackets in the living room, a coved ceiling in the dining room, and an antique heart pine ceiling in the kitchen. As you walk through the house, you sense these differences, almost unconsciously. It’s like reading a novel, a narrative where something is leading to something else, and then you say, “Oh, I get it.”
The theme of the lake is a constant presence in this house. How did you create varied experiences of water throughout the spaces of the house?
When you first see the house, the lake is hidden behind it. There are three fountains in the courtyards, so you hear the sound of water. This becomes a prelude, like in a piece of music or a novel, to the experience of the lake. When you finally do see the lake, you also see the fountain at the edge of the pool. This is like an after-image of the first fountains, even though you may not consciously make this connection. The house is so close to the lake that the light reflects on the water, then bounces up and hits the ceiling of the loggia. This light comes through the windows, so you have a constant, changing reflection of the water moving across the ceilings and walls of the rooms. You have to be right on the water to get that effect.
What is the larger setting for the house, both manmade and natural, and how did that both limit and inspire you?
The lot is a relatively small one in a neighborhood of compact houses that have a townhouse-like scale and appearance. This meant that I had to establish a physical boundary in order to create a sense of security and intimacy. Once I designed the surrounding walls, the courtyards were defined, varied sized spaces each furnished differently. You have the fountains, parterres and Norman mortis-and-tendon porches, an herb garden. This creates a cloistered setting that makes it that much more dramatic when you finally encounter the lake. This wasn’t a conscious decision there was no sense of a historical narrative at the beginning of the process. The antique French fountain and the turret just made sense in the setting. On the other side of the house, the lake provides a wonderful element that demanded to be exploited. The owners have established a preserve for bald cypress and other native plants on the far banks. They hired horticulturalist Allen Burrows, who is an incredible plantsman and an artist, to design romantic, naturalistic elements including paths, an ornamental bridge, and water features. The whole place is filled with migrating birds and butterflies.
Finally, a question about the sublime. I see this house as an architectural invitation to experience the sublime. What do you think about this idea?
When I design a house, the process is very experiential. It is almost anthropological creating a human experience rather than an academic one. I feel my way into spaces emotionally. According to the Sufis, there are three centers of awareness: the head center, the heart center, and the instinctual center. Often, my work is dominated by the instinctual and heart centers, unless I’am designing something very classical, like a Georgian or Regency style house. As a result, being in the house is like inhabiting a parallel experience. You find yourself wandering around, feeling the spaces. Maybe that is why, when you finally come to the loggia and the lake, it is such a fulfilling experience. You can’t imagine how great it feels to be out on the loggia, with all the light and the reflection of the water. I don’t know if I really answered the question. I wasn’t really thinking about the sublime. It just happened.
View Images of the Stanford residence.