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Deliberate in Design | Walker Warner Architects Celebrate Elegance

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Douglas Friedman / Hawaii Residence / Greg Warner - Architect

From metropolitan manses to seaside estates, the exclusive designs of Walker Warner Architects reflect their unique surroundings.

Set between lava rock formations and unobstructed ocean views, a house in Hawaii has glass walls that open on two sides, creating a pavilion that captures tropical breezes and sunset views. In a San Francisco neighborhood, a 1920s Italian Renaissance-style home showcases a modern expansion that brings in light and space without compromising the historic architecture.

“We have matured as a company,” says Walker, “and even though we’ve grown, we are still detail-focused and intimately involved in each home.”

modern woodland residential architecture Walker Warner

Matthew Millman / Oak Woodland Residence / Mike McCabe - Architect

Not far away, in the suburban enclave of Woodside, a residence shaded by 80-foot-tall oak trees is at once modern and organic, reaching out into the parklike grounds. And in a remote area of the Sierra Nevadas, a timber-framed wilderness cabin is an off-the-grid retreat detailed with reclaimed wood, old-quarry granite and steeply pitched metal roof forms.

All four architecturally significant homes—located on spectacular sites—were designed by the principals of Walker Warner Architects, a 32-year-old San Francisco-based firm that has carved out a niche designing high-end, elegant homes for well-heeled Bay Area clients—residences that are less about making a statement and more about making peace with their surroundings.

San Francisco modern residential architecture renovation

Matthew Millman / San Francisco Historic Reno / Brooks Walker - Architect

“We are unique in that 90 percent of our work is residential architecture,” says founding principal Brooks Walker of the firm, which is located in a historic building in the City by the Bay’s Rincon Hill neighborhood. With 70-plus employees, “we are big for a residential architectural practice,” Walker adds.

Walker Warner Architects’ beginnings, like its home designs, were rather organic. Walker, a San Francisco native, grew up in a family for whom art and architecture figured prominently. His great-grandmother commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design a house for her, while other family members supported art museums.

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Douglas Friedman / Hawaii Residence / Greg Warner - Architect

As a student at the University of Oregon, where he first studied landscape architecture before switching to architecture, Walker met Greg Warner—who grew up in Hawaii—and frequently collaborated on assignments with him.

Following graduation, Walker joined his uncle’s residential architecture firm, with a plan to head to New York to pursue a graduate degree in business, but a proposal from a family member changed the course of his career.

“My sister bought a parcel of land and asked me to design house for her,” Walker of. Walker Warner Architects recalls. “I started working on it on my dining room table, and then I got a few more projects. I kept thinking I was still going to go to New York, so I asked Greg to team up on these projects. This was in 1989. It was nothing deliberate, but we decided to give it a shot—and here we are. No New York.”

residential architecture in modern woodland home

Matthew Millman / Oak Woodland Residence / Mike McCabe - Architect

Mike McCabe and Kathy Scott joined the firm as young architects and grew along with the company; they are now principals alongside Walker and Warner.

“I think our turning point was in the late 1990s, when we bid on a residential project that [architect] Robert A.M. Stern was also going after,” recalls Scott, who grew up on Long Island and received her architecture degree from Rice University. “Even though we were smaller and relatively unknown, we got the commission.”

"The land is what informs our design process, and the homes are always integrated into the sites. We have been lucky to have clients with great sites.”

residential architecture cabin by Walker Warner

Cesar Rubio / Wilderness Cabin / Kathy Scott Architect

More projects followed, with many clients being titans of the tech, finance and venture capital fields—and with nondisclosure agreements being part and parcel of the commissions. While residential structures comprise the bulk of Walker Warner Architects’ work, the firm also has designed several wineries and is currently working on the rebuilding and renovation of Hawaii’s iconic Kona Village Resort, which was shuttered after a 2011 tsunami.

Scott credits the firm’s success to several underlying principles. “Clients come to us because we are not style-driven,” she says. “We not only respond to each individual’s specific needs but also to the conditions of the land, the climate and the settings. Our use of materials is connected to the location. Each project is unique, based on place and the client.”

Walker concurs with Scott’s view. “The land is what informs our design process, and the homes are always integrated into the sites. We have been lucky to have clients with great sites.”

The four homes in Hawaii, the Bay Area and the Sierra Nevadas are prime examples of this design philosophy—and of the partners’ meticulous skills.

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Douglas Friedman / Hawaii Residence / Greg Warner - Architect

Walker Warner Architect’s Greg Warner designed the Hawaii residence, one of many he’s been doing in his home state. Working with a team that included interior designer Nicole Hollis and, for the landscape, Lutsko Associates, Warner connected the home to both its volcanic landscape and views of the Pacific Ocean by incorporating materials such as basalt, cedar and steel, and adding a protected courtyard, reflecting ponds and an infinity-edge pool that help lure the owners and their guests from inside to the outdoors.

Walker Warner Architects has carved out a niche designing high-end, elegant homes for well-heeled Bay Area clients—residences that are less about making a statement and more about making peace with their surroundings.

Historic San Francisco reno Walker Warner

Matthew Millman / San Francisco Historic Reno / Brooks Walker - Architect

Brooks Walker’s approach to the renovation of the 1920s Italian Renaissance-style home was to carefully “thread the needle” between historic and new, traditional and modern. With Redmond Aldrich Design handling interiors and Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture reworking the garden around a century-old beech tree, Walker had the house taken down to the studs and retrofitted for earthquake code.

He pared down the ornate interior details on the historic portion of the house and added a two-story owner’s suite and family room addition in back, replete with steel sash glass walls that are at once contemporary while providing a nod to the dwelling’s original window profile.

Walker Warner residential architecture modern woodland home

Matthew Millman / Oak Woodland Residence / Mike McCabe - Architect

With interiors by ODADA and gardens by Ground Studio Landscape Architecture, the low-key, modernist home in Woodside by Walker Warner Architect’s Mike McCabe is set amidst towering oaks. Cedar, metal and concrete help the residence harmonize with its surroundings, while the floor plan is suited for both everyday family life as well as larger gatherings that can flow from indoors to out. Inside, limestone for the flooring and fireplace surround, oak-clad ceilings and neutral hues keep the focus on the landscape, as seen through the home’s many floor-to-ceiling glass walls.

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Walker Warner residential architecture Wilderness cabin

Cesar Rubio / Wilderness Cabin / Kathy Scott Architect

And, in a remote mountain setting, the wilderness cabin is an edgy chalet on the edge of a lake, set against a backdrop of pine-filled woods and dramatic peaks. With a design team that included project manager Kathy Scott, Stone Interiors and a landscape by Garden Architecture, the cabin incorporates practical details, such as solar and propane to power the dwelling and thick reclaimed cedar siding that helps deter the local woodpeckers. Cozy fireplace niches for reading and steel-framed windows that capture high-altitude vistas add to the home’s inviting ambiance and make the most of the serene location.

Though Walker Warner Architects started rather serendipitously, it has become a serious player in award-winning residential architecture, with numerous projects in California and Hawaii, in addition to houses in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado.

“We have matured as a company,” says Walker, “and even though we’ve grown, we are still detail-focused and intimately involved in each home.”

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