But practical. “The atrium is really handy,” Doherty says, “because you can put all your stuff in there, and you don’t have to worry about it walking off.”
Carol and Bob Swenson worked hard to turn the atrium in their custom Eichler on the Stanford campus into a vision of Japan. But then a new passion took over, and as it did several elements of the old design had to go.
How many concertgoers, after all, want their views blocked by a pine tree? And dampness from the Japanese pond was putting Carol’s pair of grand pianos out of tune.
Carol Swenson, a former Stanford lawyer, took up the piano after retiring, and today is president of the 56-year-old Palo Alto Two Piano Club.
“You can get more sound,” Swenson says of her love for two-piano-playing. “It’s more orchestral. It’s just so much fun. Usually piano playing is a solitary pursuit.”
Her two pianos are in the home’s loggia, an open area that faces the atrium, where the audience sits during concerts. She has hosted pianists from Italy and Latvia who are “famous in the world of two pianos,” she says, and more often plays there herself with her piano partner, Marsha Rocklin, who is also an Eichler homeowner.
The Swenson atrium, which has a retractable, shoji-style roof, sits 40 people on folding chairs who can look past the paired pianos into the garden beyond. “It makes a very nice concert setting,” Swenson says. The shoji-style ceiling reflects the sound. “The sound is wonderful,” she says.
With her company, Bay Area Performing Arts, Prabha Gopal has been producing concerts of classical and popular Indian music for decades in the Bay Area in such major halls as Zellerbach in Berkeley, presenting stars such as Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussein.
But on a recent evening the hall was smaller and the performers less famous. The invitation-only performance was in the atrium and foyer of her Walnut Creek Eichler, and the performers were Geetanjali, a band made up of her daughter, son, and son-in-law. The musicians played in the foyer, which looks out onto the atrium, where members of the audience listened and danced. Songs ranged from Bollywood rave-ups to “songs that never die,” Gopal says.
Gopal plans to have more house concerts for family and friends because, she says, “this is so gorgeous, this whole area, the atrium and the foyer overlooking the backyard.”
Gopal really gets the most from her atrium. A yoga teacher for decades in all sorts of settings, including some that were less than ideal, she’s also turned her atrium into a yoga studio.
Three years ago, she and her husband Mysore bought their Eichler, a sort of house Prabha knew nothing about. When she first opened the door and found herself, not in a room but in an atrium, “I said, what is going on?”
They fell in love with the house and its atrium. Mysore, an engineer, devised a translucent plexiglass-and-aluminum covering that preserves some of the outdoor feeling. The atrium lends itself to yoga, Prabha says. Once they moved in, she says, “Everybody said, ‘This is it. You don’t have to go out to teach. Just teach here.’”
“Yoga students love to have this indoor-outdoor feeling,” she says. “It’s very pleasant. It’s bright. You can look through the house and see the backyard.”