Q & A with Today Sotheby's International Realty
Today Sotheby's International Realty WHO DESIGNED YOUR HOME?
Lawrence Cheung About five years ago, my parents gave
me an opportunity to design my first ground-up house. I was very fortunate to take on
this project, because it was a learning experience. All of my years of working in an
architectural office in the east coast and as a project manager for my father's
construction company were put to the test. A former client and family friend was also
interested in being a part of this project and played a major role in the design process.
We exchanged many ideas with one another throughout construction. It was truly a collaborative
todaySIR WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF YOUR HOME?
LC The house was built in 2013, just a little over a year ago.
It is a Spanish Colonial-inspired house from the exterior; very traditional and modest. We
wanted to stay true to the architectural style- low-pitched mission clay tile roof, exposed
wood rafter tails, thick white-washed stucco walls with recessed-in French patio doors and
casement windows. The interiors are more subdued with a simple and elegant material palette
of white walls, timber beams, wide plank white oak floors and pale travertine. The house
needed to blend in with its surrounding of native California live oaks. We even planted a
stunning oak tree out by the cobblestone-paved courtyard to look as if the house was built
around it. I always pictured it as an old country villa that was completely revamped with
all the modern amenities and conveniences of a boutique hotel.
todaySIR WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT IT?
LC Many people, who have visited the house, often said they
love how everything is so open and spacious with an abundance of natural light. I spent months
designing the floor plan, elevations and interior sections, simultaneously going back and forth
and envisioning how might a family or a couple will want to live in this house. I wanted to create
an open plan that provided people a way of orienting themselves throughout the house and yet feel
cozy in the more intimate public areas, such as the pantry and laptop station in the kitchen and
the space beneath the main staircase. One of my design methodologies is to prescribe a sense of
order and proportion throughout the house; making sense of every line that is drawn and visualizing
that in a three dimensional space. This is called a horizontal datum. For example, the drop ceiling
in the family room lines up with the underside of the kitchen soffit; the edges of the master bath
skylight meet up with the corners of the walls supporting the floating vanity; the top of the
entertainment unit becomes the top of the floating stone bench in the family room. Your eyes become
drawn to these visual connections as you walk from one space to the next and everything seems to make
sense. Because it is a minimalist house, these visual connections are more apparent than in your
average home. Designing and building a bespoke minimalist home (or building) is without a doubt very
challenging, because everything has to be so precise, and there are no crown moldings, baseboards,
and other architectural wood work to cover the joints between walls and ceilings and floors.
todaySIR WHY DID YOU BUY IT OR BUILD IT?
LC During the schematic design phase, I remember my parents
suggesting that perhaps the bathrooms could be a bit more contemporary. Naturally, I took that as an
invitation to design a traditional house that has both an Old World charm and a minimalist aesthetic.
I was interested in tapping into the high-end real estate market. Many wealthy foreigners and young
entrepreneurs with growing diversified stock portfolios are either building their own dream homes or
in search of one that is unique with style. Around this time, I was reading about hotelier and real
estate developer Ian Schrager, who gained fame as co-owner and and co-founder of Studio 54 in New
York City. I admired his concept of introducing the boutique "hotel as lifestyle" in his residential
and mixed use projects such as 40 Bond Street and 50 Gramercy Park North. This idea inspired me to
treat this house as something that is one of a kind.
todaySIR WHAT WILL YOU MISS ABOUT IT?
LC We spent almost a year and a half building this home so there
were quite a few lasting memories. One of my favorites was observing how the morning sun light comes
through the stairway window by the barrel vaulted staircase. It is very ethereal.
todaySIR WHAT WILL YOU REMEMBER?
LC This project was a labor of love. It taught me that if you really
believe in something and work hard at it, no amount of reward will make you happier than seeing your
creation come to fruition. "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." - John Keats
todaySIR WHAT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING ABOUT YOUR HOME?
LC The exterior has a very timeless quality about it. Timelessness
is very important to me, because an object or building should withstand time and not be labeled as
something "trendy". That is why most people can identify with traditional homes. Whether it is a
Shingle Style or Georgian colonial, a beautiful house is well-proportioned and historically accurate.
After I graduated from Woodbury University, I took a trip to Europe and marveled at the magnificent
cathedrals and beautiful monasteries. I came back with a greater appreciation for the generations of
master builders and craftsmen who spent their entire lifetime building these glorious monuments. I
was fascinated by their traditional building methods and so I began borrowing their ideas to get a
better understanding on why we are so drawn to vernacular architecture. As a minimalist, I have a deep
found respect for tradition and a desire to create minimal spaces that compliment both clean,
contemporary lines with old-world touches. I am spiritually drawn to the monastic aesthetic,
celebrating solidity and mass while using a minimal palette of natural materials set against a
backdrop of plastered white walls. I like the purity of white, because it is essentially a blank
canvas to work off from. It brings clarity to a space and provides a nice juxtaposition to the
colorful landscape vistas in the background. The views from the windows become the art itself.
When one enters this home, one can see the Spanish Colonial influences- the timber beams, the
thick walls, the wrought iron railing, etc. but that is the extent of it. Beyond that, Roman
travertine wash basins and limestone floors, wide-plank oak hardwood flooring (with knots and
blemishes), and pale rift white oak cabinetry reveal something that looks more revamped farmhouse/
monastery than hacienda. Even the beams and rafter tails were lightly stained to bring out the
natural color of the wood as opposed to the typical dark brown wooden features that we see in many
todaySIR WHICH ROOM IS YOUR FAVORITE?
LC The kitchen and family room are my two favorite rooms. Technically,
it is one large open space. It is the corner of the building where the two wings intersect. It is the
place where guests come to hang out by the kitchen island while the hosts prepare them with cocktails
and appetizers. Definitely the perfect spot for hosting a Super Bowl party or watching the Oscars. Many
people have also commented how they love the LED uplighting behind the 21' long cantilevered stone bench.
It gives the dramatic appearance of weightlessness, as if the stone bench is floating.
todaySIR WHAT LITTLE DETAILS DO YOU TREASURE?
LC Early on, we thought that this house would need to make a statement as
soon as you walk up to the front door. The door is the first thing you touch so we thought it would be
extraordinary to give this brand-new piece of walnut that aged, weathered look. My client instructed me on the
multi-step process, which he learned from the artisans who had worked on his own front door. First, we
had to bleach it three times; next, we gave it a subtle wire brushing to open up the grain and soften
the corners and edges; I used a utility knife and chisel to score deep grooves and chamfer the edges to
resemble cracks. I found an old chain on the job site and used it to beat the surface so that it was covered
with little indentations. I drilled a couple of screws through the end of a wooden stick and bludgeoned the
door to make it look like it was riddled with a thousand worm holes. Afterwards, I applied a very dark stain
so that it seeped into the wood grain, and then I quickly wiped the surface so that only the stain remained
in the grooves. Finally, I put on three different coats of a lighter stain so that the darker stain came
through to give the wood depth and richness. Some people told me that they had thought it was a salvaged
antique door that we picked up somewhere.
I also want to mention about the integrated stone wash basins in the powder room and the
master bath room. We were fortunate enough to find eight slabs of vein cut Roman travertine all the way down
from Southern California. This natural material has beautiful veining (or streaks) across the surface and
it is harder than limestone, but softer than marble or granite. I instructed our stone fabricator to miter
the 9" thick edges of the stone with all the veining in one direction and no seams so that it looks like
one monolithic piece. The inside of the wash basin is comprised of 3/4" thick slabs that are epoxied together
to form a box. There is a narrow slit on one side of the basin for the water to drain in.
We also decided to have flush baseboards (or recessed baseboards) throughout the house to
bring the wall surface to its simplest form. If we applied baseboards over the wall surface, the vertical
wall plane becomes staggered. It was very challenging to build, because the floors needed to be dead level
and all the walls had to be plumb and straight. From a practical standpoint, you end up not having to clean
the dust off the top of the baseboards.
todaySIR WHAT QUIRKS?
LC The bright turquoise windows shocked some people at first but the color
eventually grew on them.
todaySIR WHY IS THIS A GOOD PLACE TO LIVE?
LC The property is located in one of the sought after neighborhoods in
Hillsborough and only minutes away from South Hillsborough elementary school. It is less than a five minute
drive to downtown San Mateo and about fifteen minutes to San Francisco International Airport. The hillside
property is surrounded by native oak trees with a brand new home that is ideal for entertaining. This 5,800
square foot home boasts ten foot high ceilings with museum-like spaces and dramatic lighting for the art-savvy
collector. A spacious kitchen with up-to-date Thermador appliances and a spa-like master bath with Hansgrohe
Axor Starck fixtures are some of the unique features that this house has to offer.