Listen carefully, and you can hear a home speak. Some offer the laughter of family and friends, of comforts and memories that span years and generations. With others, their voice is unabashedly bold, confident, and full of character, with new ideas and artistic flourishes that draw attention to themselves. And then there are those precious few that speak in a whisper, communicating deeper meaning in a quiet hush.
Tai Ikegami’s most recent creation is one of those. The partner at Feldman Architecture in San Francisco named it The Sanctuary—a moniker that speaks directly to the spiritual inspiration for the home.
The Sanctuary by Tai Ikegami
Situated just minutes away from the birthplace of Silicon Valley in downtown Palo Alto, the extra-deep lot offers a distinctly quiet interpretation of the craft of home design—an approach that makes a statement by what it doesn’t say as much as by what it does.
“From the street, this property was a site with this old, dilapidated shack that was hidden behind an equally dilapidated wooden fence—all of it overgrown with lush greenery,” Ikegami says with a smile. “It was one of those homes where if you were one of the kids who grew up on the block, [you’d say], ‘That’s the house where that scary lady lives—and you don’t want to go near it!’”
However, as Ikegami says, once you passed through the garden gate and entered the lot itself, the property spoke an entirely different language. “There was this amazing, lush garden that was well-tended. The bamboo screen shut out any presence of the neighbours, so it was a real sanctuary in that sense, [but] no one from the street ever knew about it. It was like a Harry Potter moment—suddenly you’re in a different world.”
That sense of discovery became an immediate source of inspiration for Ikegami’s team—the idea that there could be not just a dream home, but a private retreat from the urban jungle.
“At that first meeting between the architectural team and the landscape team, it was obvious, really,” Ikegami says. “The inspiration was ‘Let’s make it nicer,’ but also: ‘Let’s recreate this amazing sanctuary.’”
In harmony with the landscape
From the start, Ikegami worked collaboratively with landscape architect Bay Area-based Ground Studio to make nature itself a critical component of the design. A grizzled old oak towering over the front yard became a way to define and organize the structure behind it. Japanese maples and Pacific dogwoods provide splashes of colour around the site; exotic grasses extend privacy and add a sense of verticality, while a nursery full of shrubs and groundcover transforms the space into a verdant urban oasis.
“It was hard to tell who was doing the architecture, and who was doing the landscape,” Ikegami says. “There wasn’t really a delineation. The collaborative process really allowed us to integrate landscape elements and components and motifs into the architecture, so they were inseparable.”
You can see the result of that collaboration in a myriad of subtle details that blur the boundaries between home and garden design: the way a strategically planted maple softens the light coming into the bedroom; the way a small, semi-enclosed courtyard off the hallway functions as a natural framed painting; the way a large granite boulder creates a visual counterpoint to the concrete of the house wall; the way a traditional Japanese rain chain creates a serene, almost meditative sound out of a purely functional engineering element; the way a bamboo grove frames the great room and the connected outdoor patio while dulling the hubbub of the city that lies just beyond the property line.
“It’s about experiencing the outdoor space while being sheltered,” Ikegami says. “How do we turn what is a practical solution into something that is beautiful and graceful.”
Three pavilions anchor the overall design, all clearly connected, yet clearly defined with a variety of architectural features that create a distinct purpose and feel. The largely horizontal design features a series of wide planes that broaden the look and stretch the eye, blurring the boundary between indoor and outdoor, and creating distinct viewing angles and apertures throughout the house. Floor-to-ceiling windows open into carefully cultivated courtyards, providing a definitive connection to nature while sheltering the homeowner from the hustle and bustle.
On the inside, the materials are tasteful and simple, with exposed concrete and stained yellow cedar offering an understated, almost muted palette. The décor echoes the sense of soft, restrained style, with low-profile Flexform furniture creating a clean, modern look that is both supremely comfortable and stylish at the same time. The overall effect is one of complete harmony and absolute calm—the feeling that every part of the design is intentional, deliberate, and purposeful, with nothing superfluous or gratuitous.
The approach presents an intriguing mixture of classical and modern traditions, with elevated side patios, horizontal design, and sculpted landscape—clear notes of Japan, but with a distinctly West Coast interpretation.
“My Japanese sensibility wasn’t intentionally channelled, but it naturally came out,” Ikegami says. “Our goal was to also design architecture where architecture dissolved—you see that in a lot of Japanese architecture. It’s successful because you don’t think about the architecture.”