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Silicon Valley techies spur home building and remodeling boom – Silicon Valley

Taking advantage of Silicon Valley’s robust economy, affluent techies are building or remodeling homes, transforming parts of the area’s older housing stock and fueling a boom for Bay Area architects and interior designers.

“The problem is finding time to sleep,” said architect Roger Kohler, of Palo Alto, whose firm has more than 20 projects in construction or just completed in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton.

The tech workers range from midlevel engineers at startups or at tech giants like Apple (AAPL), Facebook and Google (GOOG) to older CEOs or founders selling their companies. Some are doing relatively straightforward, if pricey, remodels, while others are leveling old homes and building new ones with basement game rooms, large garages and the latest in high-tech features.

Catherine Jhung, a vice president at, and her husband, Brian Buchholz, who works at Google, are including “a lot of the new technologies for green building” in the San Carlos Craftsman-style home they will soon break ground on. The existing home — which they bought seven years ago — was torn down. Construction bids are coming in at $270 to $285 a square foot, or about $900,000.

“We’re doing a lot to make it look lived in,” Jhung said. That includes tongue-and-groove wall paneling, ceiling paneling and vintage-looking fixtures.

The new home will be wired for plug-in electric cars and solar panels, and have the latest in energy-efficient windows, a smart thermostat, top-of-the-line insulation and solar-powered skylights.

‘Floodgates opened’

San Jose architect Eugene Sakai, who designed the San Carlos home, said surging demand has the architects, contractors and interior designers who survived the recession “super busy.”

“The valley’s money machine never stopped running, but people were socking it away. When the economy came back the floodgates opened with pent-up demand for projects.”

He estimated 80 percent of his clients are in tech or have profited from investing in tech stocks. “We’re definitely benefiting from the tech economy.”

Depending on its size, a newly built home can easily cost $700,000 to well over $1 million, Kohler said. “It also depends on what you put into them — handmade tiles, items from Europe and Asia or layers of trim. That kind of stuff takes it up to where it can be astronomical.”

Techies have their own ideas about design.

Architect Andre Rothblatt, of San Francisco, said he turned to Google last year to learn about the “steampunk” motif that his client, a tech startup founder, wanted for the bathroom and kitchen of a house in the upper Haight district of San Francisco.

“Steampunk is a counterpoint to the current technology,” which is designed to be unobtrusive and hidden, Rothblatt said. “It’s almost a rebellion. With steampunk, everything is exposed.” For example, instead of being concealed in the walls, the bathroom’s copper water pipes zigzag up the wall, like a metal sculpture.

Robert Swatt of Swatt Miers Architects in Emeryville, whose contemporary-style homes dot the hills above the valley, said his clients in technology “have taken risks to be in those businesses and have done well, and they are forward-thinking. They want to live in something of their time, and they like to experiment.”

Ed Shimmon hired Swatt to build his dream house in Los Altos Hills after selling a marketing firm that catered to tech companies.

The home has mahogany doors and windows on the inside that are echoed on the exterior by mahogany siding and colored stucco. It also features a below-grade theater and wine cellar, a detached office and a glass tile infinity edge pool.

“I love my house every day,” Shimmon said.

Other projects reflect the region’s diversity and creativity.

When longtime IBM engineer Ashoka Mehta and his wife, Jayshree, remodeled their San Jose home, they included a Hindu shrine, a touch their daughter Alexandra Mysoor says reflects “the new face of the Bay Area. People from all over San Jose show up to look at it.”

Daniela Mielke, who works in the consumer tech industry, grew up in Europe, so when she bought an aging ranch-style home in Half Moon Bay she commissioned San Francisco architect Mark English to design an Italian kitchen for it.

“I’m basically changing the whole look and feel and making it a really modern place,” she said. Her glossy red kitchen with high ceilings and hardwood floors was the first step. “It used to be Southwestern. Now it’s European.”

Tim Williams and his wife, Renee, both work in biotech and were “half looking around” when they found a lot in Los Altos Hills for sale on Craigslist. “We’re not in the 1 percent,” said Tim Williams, “so it was a bit of a stretch for us.”

Contemporary design

The couple lived in an old cottage on the property during construction of the 3,100-square-foot, contemporary home, designed by Bahi Oreizy and Mariela Pfennig-Mahmud of 360 Design in Los Altos. The new home is stucco, metal and wood on the exterior and has tile floors, under-floor heating and lots of south-facing windows to help sunshine warm the home in winter.

Eldad and Charlotte Matityahu — he founded the valley network firm Net Optics — had already built one house in Palo Alto in 2000, but with four children, they recently remodeled a “ginormous” Woodside country house.

“We wanted space,” said Charlotte Matityahu. “The last thing we wanted was a new home, so we found a really old, dysfunctional giant barn of a thing and made it into a home, not a house. What you need is a place to decompress and create mental — not physical — space, so you can process everything and get ready for tomorrow.”

Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419. Follow him at

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