In 2009, tech entrepreneur coupleAndrea Chavez andDaniel Putterman decided they wanted to leave San Francisco for a more rural area, but weren’t quite ready to give up city living. “We were addicted to an urban environment,” Putterman says. “But we wanted to have the freedom and beauty” of the countryside.
They hit on Mill Valley, a city 14 miles into Marin across the Golden Gate Bridge, with a population of 15,000 people. “It’s 20 minutes from north San Francisco,” says Chavez, whose most recent startup isPawscout, a digital pet tag. “We had offices in San Francisco for a while, and the commute was shorter than when we lived in the city.”
They purchased a 1.45-acre lot on a mountainside in 2011 and hired architecture firmQuezada to draw up plans for a 5,000-square-foot, five-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath main house and a separate guest house.
“We began work with [Quezada principals] Alfred and Cecilia on Day 1 to get through the initial planning process,” says Putterman, whose newest company,Kogniz, uses machine learning to analyze security camera footage. “You have to invest quite a bit in design; one factor was our living environment and aesthetic choices.” The other was to make sure it was congruent with the rest of the neighborhood. Most nearby houses are similarly low-slung and—because most the nearby lots lean into the mountainside—both private and unobtrusive.
That planning and permitting stage took close to a year; it would take four years for the couple and two young children to move into the house. “There was a solid year of land reconfiguration and then two years of property build. We didn’t move in until 2015,” Putterman says, echoing a lament familiar to anyone who’s tried to build a house from scratch. “It took longer than we anticipated.”
Nine years after buying the land, the family plans to relocate and is listing the property for $12.9 million with Josh Burns of Sotheby’s International Realty.
“I can say when we transact this property, we will not be making a significant profit,” Putterman says. “We invested at an extreme level and did the high-end of everything.”
An Underground City
The property is located on a hillside. After plans for the home were approved, the first step was to modify the landscape.
“It would have been easier to locate the house closer to the street,” Chavez says. “But then you wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the views and the big lot. So we ended up with this huge project with a long driveway and tons of retaining walls.”
For all the effort that went into it, surprisingly little of the mountain was removed, Putterman says. “Neighborhoods are always worried about how much dirt you’re carrying off, but we took almost none.” It was a matter of “reconfiguring it,” he continues. “If you did an X-ray of the hillside you’d see extensive drainage, diverting water to different parts of the land. It’s like an underground city.”
The result of all this work is a quiet, landscaped lot surrounded by redwoods and sycamores, with views of the surrounding mountains. “There’s a ton of wildlife: deer, foxes, hawks, some great horned owls,” Chavez says. “It’s a kind of little paradise.” There’s a 50-foot-long lap pool with an outdoor sauna, along with multiple outdoor terraces and seating areas.
A Custom Home
Set in the middle of the lot is the house, clad in a cedar and oxidized-steel siding. (There are also solar panels on the roof.)
The design—a balance between a mid-century aesthetic and more contemporary lines and finishes—emphasizes large, spare, glassy interior spaces. Nearly every room has floor-to-ceiling glass windows that slide open onto either a terrace or the land.
The building is laid out on three levels, each connecting with a walnut-and-steel interior staircase. The main floor has an open-concept living room/kitchen/dining room. Above are the primary bedrooms, which include a large master suite that opens onto its own balcony. The lower level has an additional bedroom, a wine cellar, and laundry and storage rooms, along with an entrance foyer.
Aside from the main level, with the living areas, and the upper floor, with the primary bedrooms, “there are two half-levels as well,” he says. “One is a guest bedroom, where people can feel like they’re just slightly removed, and then it’s the same with the media room, which is also on a half-level.”
The 745-square-foot guest house, separate from the main building, has its own kitchen, terrace, and living area, too. In total, the square footage of the main house, guest house, garage, mechanical rooms, and storage space amounts to about 6,500 square feet.
The couple didn’t plan to leave the house so soon. They spent about as much time building it as they did living in it. But “we have aspirations to live in other countries and expose our kids to new and interesting environments,” Putterman says.
And so they are reluctantly letting their dream home go. “We think we did our job well,” he continues. “We invested at a significant premium and created a great home to live in. And it’s a great home to hand over to someone else. We’ve achieved our goals.”
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