They Broke Up With Two Architects Before Finding the Right One

Written by Desmond

January 25, 2022

When Gagan and Jasmin Arneja bought a Bay Area hillside home designed in 1975, they knew it would need some work. But with big windows offering expansive views over San Francisco and an interior lined with distinctive redwood-plywood paneling, there was already a lot about the house they liked.

So after closing on it in 2011 for about $1.5 million, they moved in without changing a thing. “We believe it takes at least three to four years before you understand the quirks, and the pros and cons, of a house,” said Ms. Arneja, a photographer. “We didn’t want to tear it up or remodel it before we even had a chance to get to know the house.”

“The house changes through the seasons,” added Mr. Arneja, a software engineer at Arista Networks, noting that the home, designed by the architect Albert Lanier, has overhangs that allow the interior to be flooded with sunlight in the winter, while shading it in the summer — something they wouldn’t have understood without living there.

The couple, who are in their late 40s, also couldn’t help but notice the shortcomings. The three-story house is nestled into a hillside, with the main entrance and primary living space on top. But the bedrooms, one level down, seemed shoddily finished, and the level below that wasn’t finished at all. The home also had inefficient single-pane windows, and its original kitchen and bathrooms were in desperate need of updating.

By 2016, the Arnejas were finally ready to make some changes, but they weren’t looking to do a gut renovation. They wanted to retain the redwood paneling they loved, while expanding the house to make it more comfortable for family visits (Mr. Arneja’s parents sometimes stay for months when visiting from India), improve its energy efficiency, replace its 1970s fixtures and appliances, and add a few stylistic touches to make it their own.

Finding the right architect for such a job wasn’t easy. They engaged one, but soon realized they had very different ideas about how the house should be updated. They switched to another, but found his proposed design too heavy handed as well.

“It’s like going through bad relationships,” Ms. Arneja said. “The house needed an architect who wasn’t so driven by ego, and who was mature and confident enough in their ability to take on the renovation of a house with a strong architectural identity and not feel like they had to put their imprint over it.”

Fortunately, Monica Viarengo, a landscape designer who had been consulting with the couple’s second architect, believed she knew just the right person for the job: her husband, Brett Terpeluk, the principal of Studio Terpeluk. When the Arnejas met him, it felt like a perfect match.

“I think Brett’s sensibility veers toward the Italian sensibility,” Mr. Arneja said. “It’s not about creating these blank, clean, modern lines; it’s really about, in totality, how everything feels warm.”

Mr. Terpeluk saw why the couple wanted to preserve so much. “When I walked into the house, the architecture just really resonated with me,” he said. “It has such a beautiful, almost mystical quality, in the way the space embraces you. Taking a curatorial approach to maintaining that, while upgrading the house, was the right approach.”

His plan called for expanding and finishing the bottom level, to make space for an office and a media room with a kitchenette that looks out to a new garden designed by Ms. Viarengo; updating the bedrooms and bathrooms on the second level; and making surgical additions to the main living spaces on the top floor.

Throughout, Mr. Terpeluk worked with Beatrice Santiccioli, a color consultant, to coat new architectural elements in unexpected hues. The cabinetry in the renovated kitchen is finished in minty green and soft pink lacquer, and a nearby console is coated in sunny yellow. The primary bedroom has built-in cabinetry with aubergine hues, and the connected bathroom has similarly colored mosaic tile.

Every level has access to outdoor spaces, including the garden, an internal courtyard and balconies, mostly through floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass doors.

Underfoot, Mr. Terpeluk installed whitewashed Douglas fir flooring with deep brown knots, reclaimed from old pier pilings, where the house previously had dark-stained oak. Then he tied all three levels together with a sculptural folding-steel staircase featuring a handrail resembling a shepherd’s crook. Descending the stairs is now “kind of a cinematic experience,” Mr. Terpeluk said, as it snakes past the various colors of the different levels.

The Arnejas moved out when construction began in the fall of 2017 and returned to their completed home in the summer of 2020, after spending about $500,000 on the renovation. It took nearly a decade of dreaming, designing and building, but now that their 3,200-square-foot home is complete, they know their patience paid off.

“We use every single part of the house every day,” Ms. Arneja said, as they move between spaces for sleeping, working, eating and relaxing. And when no one is staying with them, she added, the guest room doubles as a workout room.

“The end result is a house that’s different than what we started with, but doesn’t destroy what was already here,” Mr. Arneja said. “It enhances it.”

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