Building a new house in Palo Alto

Building a new house in Palo Alto

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Privacy, please! Window views & our new Evergreen Dogwoods

View from the guest room. Happiness is a maple tree with turning leaves.
One of the best parts of the framing process was discovering the views that we will have from each of the rooms. This is when we really started appreciating our architect, Jeanine because beyond making sure every room had a window, Thomas and I never paid much attention to their size and placement.

Jeanine, on the other hand, meticulously planned the windows to optimize for the best combination of light, views, privacy, ventilation and energy efficiency. She was also mindful about how the windows would impact furniture layout. In many cases she opted for clerestory (aka high) windows because they not only provide privacy and light but also allow furniture to be placed beneath them. 

As a first-time builder, I've come to realize how critical it is to get the window plan right. There's an intuitive sense of rightness that comforts you when you're in a well designed home and it begins with the windows. Next time I build a house, (yes, there will definitely be a next time), I'll be paying a lot more attention to these details. In the meantime, I'm grateful we're working with a pro.

Of course, there's only so much your architect can do with any given lot. In our case, we're in the flatlands, so we only have one teensy view of a mountain and sadly no oceanside rooms. For this house, happiness is a view of a pretty tree. Come inside and take a look.  Oh, and let's play a of these is not like the of these does not belong...

View from living room. There's an owl's nest up in the old oak tree.
View from the Zen den. 
The view Thomas will be enjoying while he's doing dishes.
View from bedroom #1...perfect for spying on the neighborhood below.
Bedroom #2 will have a window seat to relax on.
Views from the Jack & Jill bathroom. High enough to shower in.
Clerestory windows in the master bedroom--our "mountain" view.

View from master toilet, aka "paradise while you pee." 
View from family room.  Ack!
Can you tell which is not like the others? 

Jeanine did a great job of making sure our windows don't line up with any of our neighbors', unfortunately she didn't have much of a choice when it came to our patio doors and the naked spot in the yard that used to be a garage. I'm all for loving thy neighbor, but it's a whole lot easier when they're not watching you spend your afternoons on the couch cruising the Internet and popping bon bons. This needs to be fixed STAT, say I. 

This is where it comes in handy to have friends in the biz. My builder bff James Witt (who's building a dream house in the neighborhood next to ours) was placing a landscaping order in with his supplier, Devil Mountain Nursery, so we were able to add a few extra trees to the order. 

Santa Witt shows up with a tree delivery.

Much to my delight, James introduced us to a beautiful new tree we had never heard of--the Cornus Capitata Mountain Moon aka the Evergreen Dogwood. True to it's name, the Evergreen Dogwood keeps its leaves all year round and will probably grow to about 20 feet tall. They are flowering trees with little yellow blooms in the Summer and red berries in the Fall that birds feed on. Best of all, they arrived 14 feet tall and immediately blocked the view of our neighbor's balcony and upstairs windows.
The perfect height for impatient people Kay.
View of our new dogs.


  1. Dude, I'm totally getting me a few of those evergreen dogwoods, Kay. Imagine my dismay when I got home a couple of weeks ago and noticed that the 7' osmanthus bushes that I had painstakingly been waiting to shield the neighbor's window for the past 1.5 years had suddenly been beheaded to about 4.5'. Yep, need to have a little chat with Leo about that... Does Devil Mountain Nursery take retail customers?

    Love all the window views, and so cool, you are up and about on the second floor!

    1. Hey Elaine, I don't think that Devil Mountain Nursery sells to retail customers, but maybe Leo can place an order. The only thing I worry about with the Evergreen Dogwoods are the little red fruit that they drop in the Fall. Some people online claim that the birds eat them all but others claim they drop and make a mess. They're in the back of our lot, so I think we'll be fine, but to be safe, I would not put them over a pathway or too close to your lawn.

  2. Love the paradise while you pee. I am so excited to walk the house!!
    Sorry about the beheading Elaine. Tragic!

    1. News update, two of our dogwoods (the most important ones) decided to protest and have dropped all of their leaves. Boh. But the good news is that our stairs will be going in next week so hopefully you can come by for a tour next weekend!

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  4. Hi Kay. Thanks for sharing the info about these trees. How are you liking them now? Are the berries a problem? How come the leaves fell off? We are looking for similar type trees for our house as well and was just curious if you had any updates.

    1. Hi Margarita,

      I love the trees, but I do have an upcoming post entitled, "How not to kill your Evergreen Dogwoods." Long story...coming soon. The moral of the story is to make sure a professional plants your trees. We haven't experienced a season with the berries yet though, so will need another 6 months or so to report back on that front. Another very popular privacy tree is the Podocarpus. Congrats on getting through your public hearing!