And in Palo Alto, Terri Yamamoto and Michael Fredericson, working with architect Mark Marcinik, used traditional Japanese landscaping elements, new concrete paving, and LED footlights to create a peaceful composition of strong horizontal lines.
“We really wanted to simplify everything and go for, I wouldn’t say ‘zen,’ but just simple clean lines, peaceful and restful,” Yamamoto says.
The atrium contains a Japanese tetsubachi stone basin, converted into a bubbling fountain, an arrangement of plants that suggest a painting’s brushstrokes, and LED lighting subtly washing the walls.
Lights behind the double-pane glass that fronts the atrium, and light from the fountain add to the effect. “The light in the fountain creates a moving reflection on the wall, and the lights behind the grass creates a shadow effect on the wall,” she says.
The result, Yamamoto says, is “an atrium that is a unique extension of our interior living spaces rather than the previous repetitious chunk of high-maintenance backyard landscaping.”
“It’s a nice place for us to look at,” she says. “It changes based on the time of day, the lighting, the reflections.”
And the atrium isn’t too artistic to be used. Fredericson does tai chi in the atrium. Their children Issac and Kira play there, Isaac dipping his toys in the fountain.
With its Japanese lantern and bamboo, its stone arranged just so, and a single, imposing wisteria vine, the atrium in Virginia Mann’s San Rafael home seems like a spiritual place. And it accomplishes its goals without much activity on her part.
Not every atrium, after all, has to be filled with activity to play a meaningful role in a home.
“People walk in, they say, ‘Oh, it’s so open and airy.’ That’s what it’s meant to be. I never do anything there but sweep wisteria blossoms,” Mann says.
Simple it may appear, but Mann’s beautiful atrium didn’t come together by chance. When she bought the house, the atrium lacked character and charm. Besides the wisteria—the only feature that remains—there were pale blue walls and a border of ivy.
Mann covered the original concrete flooring with slate and installed ten bamboo poles, a Japanese stone temple, and a red, bell-shaped pot. But it’s the wisteria, curling over her beams, that remains the atrium’s most dramatic feature. Nothing else is needed.
“I thought about putting a table and chairs in the atrium, but I thought that would be clutter. It would be just another room. I don’t need another room.”
Photos: David Toerge, Ernie Braun; and courtesy Barry and Rosemary Brisco, Jackie Brooks, Modern House Architects (modernhousearchitects.com), Liz Doherty, Terri Yamamoto, Virginia Mann