A modern masterpiece in the Berkeley hills fulfills a family’s dream home wish list.
Photography by Tim Griffith
Walk through the 10-foot-tall front door of Lalit and Papli Kapoor’s home in the Berkeley hills, and you’ll enter a beautiful living room, with elegant limestone floors that capture natural light in the warmest way.
Don’t worry if the limestone isn’t the first thing to catch your eye, or the exquisite black Japanese rock above the fireplace to your right, or the rich Honduran mahogany ceiling.
The first thing you will notice when you enter the Kapoor’s home is the jaw-dropping view of the Bay below. “When we started building, we realized there’s no way to compete with the view,” says Lalit. “So almost every element in the house is designed to enhance it, never to distract from it.”
Perched just north of the Caldecott Tunnel, the 8,100-square-foot home sits on the highest residential lot in the Berkeley hills. The Kapoors wake every morning to the sun rising over the Moraga hills and Mount Diablo. On a clear evening, they watch the sun set over the Farallon Islands, 30 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate is one of five bridges—the Dumbarton, San Mateo, Bay, and Richmond bridges being the other four—visible from the home’s wraparound patios. Views of Silicon Valley and Mount Tamalpais are also right there.
It’s a dream home come true for the Kapoors—and one that might not have been realized.
In 2004, Lalit sold his software company and retired from a successful career as a high-tech entrepreneur (before that, he had worked as an aerospace engineer). After spending nearly 25 years in a Lafayette home, which was featured in Diablo in 1984, the Kapoors were planning to build a new home on a spectacular 12-acre lot in the hills of west Danville. The style was to be Mediterranean, although the Kapoors wanted the interiors to reflect their love of modern design.
Blueprints were drawn. Ground was broken. But on a family visit to India to search for building materials for Mediterranean-style columns, the Kapoors had a second thought.
“We had a dream house in mind, so we made a dream house wish list. We wrote down every little thing we could envision in our ideal house,” says Lalit. “And we realized that our dream house in California needed a view of the water.”
With that revelation in mind, the Kapoors pulled the plug on the Danville project and started searching for their dream view. After several months, Lalit found an online listing for a home on three-quarters of an acre near Grizzly Peak Boulevard. “I knew it was the perfect location,” Lalit says. “I knew the address from the previous Fourth of July because we went there with the family to watch the fireworks.”
The original home that occupied the lot was the first property to burn in the 1991 fires, but an identical house was re-created in 1994. Unfortunately, the design did little to take advantage of the nearly 300-degree views, so the Kapoors bought the house and tore it down.
man with the plan
The search for an architect to build the dream house was much easier. The day after purchasing the Grizzly Peak property, Lalit was perusing the Builders Booksource in Berkeley, when he came across the book Living Modern, featuring the work of Robert Swatt, of Swatt Miers Architects in Emeryville. “I was so excited as I looked through the book, knowing right away that I had found our architect,” says Lalit. “I sent him a lengthy e-mail the next morning, asking to speak with him about my ideas.”
Swatt, also a longtime Lafayette resident, was blown away by the Grizzly Peak location. “I was absolutely floored when I saw the views and the opportunity that the property had to utilize them,” he says.
As Swatt drafted plans for the three-level home, Lalit leaned on his engineering instincts to feed the architect ideas from his dream house wish list. “Lalit has an amazing sense of utility,” Swatt says. “It was very important to him for every room in the home to have multiple uses.”
Examples of Lalit’s multiuse approach are evident throughout the six-bedroom home. Instead of hinged doors, pocket doors slide and disappear into walls, allowing for huge, open rooms. When the doors slide shut, they create smaller, cozier spaces throughout the house.
One such door separates the master bedroom from a room on the south patio, which functions as a TV room and meditation sanctuary. The pocket door offers privacy to the bedroom when shut—and has a nine-foot movie screen on its bedroom side.
Not surprising for the home of a high-tech entrepreneur, there are high-tech gadgets around every corner. Solar panels on the roof generate enough power for the Kapoors to be self-sufficient. Each of the home’s 67 speakers can be controlled by an iPhone. The master bathroom’s shower has no exposed showerheads; instead, eight cubes built into the walls and ceiling can be programmed to spray in a seemingly infinite combination of directions and temperatures. One of Lalit’s favorite elements is the faucet in one of the guest bathrooms: An LED unit in the faucet adjusts its glow from blue to red as the water temperature heats up.
Despite the home’s technical complexity, Lalit says that Swatt’s “livable modern” philosophy simplified—and improved—the Kapoors’ plans for their dream house. The home uses just one type of Israeli limestone, and mahogany is the only visible wood. “He showed us how to see the larger picture,” Lalit says. “It’s not about all the little parts but the sum of those parts that makes the home.”
Friendship with a Future
The home is nearly finished (the Kapoors are still searching for the perfect dining room table as well as an ideal bench swing for the south patio), but the Kapoor-Swatt relationship is still blossoming. Lalit and Swatt are discussing a 50-plus unit residential development in the Bay Area and another possible project in India.
“I think Robert is a genius,” says Lalit. “I would love to see an entire community of Robert Swatt buildings. Not just homes but a shopping center, a gas station—all the things that could be made to look interesting but never are.”
Swatt reciprocates with praise for the Kapoors. “As we were finishing the house, Lalit and Papli took me and my wife to India and took me on tours of modern architecture,” Swatt says, smiling. “Once in a while, you have a client that you just click with, and you wind up becoming best friends.” ■