The Silicon Valley town of Woodside, California, is not lacking in unicorns. Nestled in the foothills of the mountains just west of Stanford University, the woodsy enclave is teeming with tech billionaires, including Laurene Powell Jobs, Larry Ellison, and SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son.
The unicorns at this residence are slightly different. Fashioned of chrome and as shiny as disco balls, the mythical creatures ringing the chandelier in the front entrance set the stage for a home whose spellbinding eccentricity only intensifies upon further exploration. Stocked with a to-die-for modern art collection and auction-worthy pieces created by a who’s who of the furniture-design world, the house is a cabinet of curiosities. It’s also proof that the pushing of boundaries and the primacy of comfort can, in fact, live in equal balance.
“It started out as a garden project,” says John Toya, the San Francisco architect who was tasked with reimagining the inside of the 1920s Tudor-style home. He came on board after landscape designer Roderick Wyllie had begun to update the five-acre lot—with its 100-foot-tall oak trees and gardens originally designed by Bay Area legend Thomas Church—and safeguard it against the region’s surge in wildfires. The owners, who work in tech and entertainment and who have four children, started to look inward, specifically at the design of their home, which was heavy on Italianate details and short on ceiling height. They wanted a gym and, while they were at it, to move one of the children’s bedrooms to be closer to the others on the top floor. “There was no flow,” Toya says. “Everything was topsy-turvy.”
Like a Rubik’s Cube that needed to be reset in order to solve the puzzle, the redesign of the 8,000-square-foot home ended up touching on every room but two. A gut renovation allowed for the installation of a great room with high ceilings worthy of the family’s stonking art collection, including works by Cindy Sherman, Kehinde Wiley, Pablo Picasso, and Jean-Michel Basquiat—some of which didn’t even fit on the previous walls.
“The house is a Looney Tunes ode to artisans and artists of all sorts.” —Ken Fulk
The homeowner did not want her place to feel predictably of a piece, which meant there would be no easy through line for a designer to lean on. There would be pockets of both darkness and brightness, serenity and vibrancy. “We wanted it to feel like every room and every part of the house was a different environment and atmosphere,” she says. “Depending on where you are, you can be creative, have fun, have parties, and just live in this ethereal wonderland.”
To inject the wonderland feel, they turned to San Francisco design impresario Ken Fulk, the man-about-town whose dapper suits and razzle-dazzle stagecraft have made him a West Coast favorite (just ask Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom or Fulk’s newest BFF, Gigi Hadid). From flower delivery and party planning to nose-to-tail home design, Fulk’s decor “think tank” does it all. What’s more, he and his staffers do it themselves, designing and creating bespoke curtains, wallpaper, and furnishings for clients.
“I’m a storyteller,” says Fulk, who oversees an 85-person team out of offices in San Francisco and New York City (think Andy Warhol’s Factory meets Santa’s workshop).
For this home’s story, he was feeling a casual decadence. He imagined a rock-and-roll couple having fun at an English estate they’d just inherited. Some Bay Area iconoclasts wear hoodies to work; in Fulk’s fantasyland, they buy priceless art and party all night at a manor that’s newly theirs. “I think accomplished people in Northern California almost feel obligated to not have to fit into norms,” Fulk says. “There is a desire to set your own path.”
He took an immediate liking to the clients. The couple already collected museum-quality furnishings and had a vision that was unapologetically out-there. “The goal was to make our home worthy of such a unique environment as Woodside,” the owner says. “There are horse trails throughout our town, but no sidewalks or streetlights. You can pull your horse up to the grocery store.”
Room by room, Fulk pictured spaces that provide comfort, provoke conversation, and brook no cliché. “The whole house is a Looney Tunes ode to artisans and artists of all sorts,” he says. There’s the living room, a low-slung oasis of statement furniture in outré yet cozy tones of salmon and hollandaise sauce. By the pool is a vintage-ish vignette, with striped umbrellas that conjure Patricia Highsmith by way of Palo Alto. The floral-curtained dining room channels an adolescent Diana Spencer until you notice the ornate marble slab that supports the table, designed by Italian architect Vincenzo de Cotiis.
“You can find moments of tranquillity in some rooms and energy in others,” the owner says. “We loved the house before, and there was nothing wrong with it, but we made it our own. We made it fun.”
This story originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of ELLE Decor. SUBSCRIBE