Exclusive: The Plans For Steve Jobs's House

Six billion dollars can get you a lot of things in life. Apparently, the ability to fast track construction of a new home is not one of them. Just ask Steve Jobs.

After nearly a six years of detailed cost comparisons, environmental impact surveys, court appeals and unrelenting legal kung fu with state and local preservationists, it appears the 1920s Woodside mansion Jobs bought in 1984 will finally have its date with the bulldozers.

In its place, the Apple CEO plans to erect a brand new $US8.45 million single family home. And what might a man who’s described design as “the fundamental soul of a human-made creation” do when given the chance to build a new residence? Exactly what you’d expect… and also kind of not.

But first, some history. The house that currently occupies Steve’s lot, the (now dilapidated) Spanish Colonial Revival home designed for copper baron Daniel Jackling, contains 30 rooms, 14 bedrooms and 13.5 bathrooms. Jobs initially purchased the mansion back in 1984, lived in it for about 10 years, and then intermittently rented it out. It’s been vacant for almost a decade. Back in 2004, the Woodside Town Council first approved Jobs’ application for a demolition permit, but agreed with the preservationist group Save Our Heritage that the building was a historic resource. What’s followed has been a fierce legal battle between an unsentimental future-oriented tech CEO and a group focused only on the past. It hasn’t been pretty.

As for Jobs’ new home? It couldn’t be more different than the Jackling estate. Measuring in at about one third the size (456sqm) of the existing main property, Jobs’ future residence is the ne plus ultra of utilitarian modesty – even when you remove the billionaire standards.

If anything, the conceptual plans submitted to the Woodside Town Council depict more of a small, private retreat than any towering glass-and-steel tech chapel or totem of wealth. According to these initial designs, Jobs intends to populate the six acres with an assortment of indigenous flora; a simple three-car garage; a modest five-bedroom home with plenty of windows and decks; a network of lighted stone walkways; and even a private vegetable garden. Everything is neat, tight, pragmatic, and in its place.

While the pared down modernist home will occupy the same basic location as the existing George Washington Smith-built manse, nothing will remain of the estate’s former grandiosity. In lieu of the eight-bedroom/9.5-bathroom main residence, Jobs has opted instead for an unassuming living/working space that’s half the size. No chauffeur’s cottage, no cook’s cottage and no tennis courts. In fact, when compared something like Larry Ellison’s $US70 million feudal Japan themed estate located right up the road, Jobs’s new digs seem downright monkish – if not Buffettian.

“The site plan definitely shows unnatural restraint for a person of wealth,” notes Christopher Travis, both a managing partner of Austin-based Sentient Architecture and the founder of a start-up that’s developing software to predict how people respond to the built environments around them.

“This kind of thing only happens when the client gives the architect specific instructions to be sparse and utilitarian,” Travis adds. “The natural tendency is to go ‘McMansion’. I would say this plan is a direct result of a specific requirement by Jobs to make it plain and simple… It’s almost Zen, with a vaguely oriental simplicity to it.”

That strict adherence to simplicity becomes less surprising when you discover the origin of the plans: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the same architectural firm responsible for some of Apple’s most iconic stores, was also tapped to work their magic for Jobs’ new property.

While initially submitted as part of a legal agreement to quantify the monetary difference between restoring the Jackling estate and razing it to build the new house ($US8.5 million vs $US13.75, respectively), these rough plans still offer some insight into both the aesthetic tastes and personality of Apple’s leader. Homes are, after all, one of the most intensely personal things someone can own – especially when you have more money than God to design one.

We showed them to Sally Augustin, an environmental psychologist who consults with homeowners and businesses to incorporate psychological considerations into the building process.

“Based on these… I would say Steve Jobs and his family are quite comfortable in their own skins and not out to prove anything to anyone,” she said. “They have assessed what they need in a home and will have it built.”

In terms of its overall design, the new home is dominated by rectilinear lines, indicative, Augustin says of a strong sense of control. She also notes there’s an almost preternatural assessment of what is needed and what isn’t.

“The careful assessment of needs is evident in the bedroom wing with the shared bathroom – the one with two toilet/WC rooms,” says Augustin. “This design is very efficient and more economical than bathrooms for each bedroom.”

Efficient with economical with space? An unflinching devotion to practicality? The distinct lack of garish bells and whistles? Sound familiar? In an age where architect and design firms are just starting to apply to Apple’s design principles to the building of homes, Steve Jobs has gone and designed the iPhone of houses.

Travis agrees. Among other insights gleaned from these preliminary plans, he notes that the home was clearly built for a man (there’s a distinct lack of a woman’s touch here) who likes privacy, a natural setting and working. Especially working.

“It is functional, not really designed for entertaining, but a home/work environment,” Travis says. “This guy likes his work.” The low profile of the home in addition to the way the grounds are laid out also speaks of someone who doesn’t want or need attention.

“This is not Patton charging through Europe. This is an attempt to be gentle in an existing environment. This guy would want them to knock down that house CAREFULLY. My guess is this is a person whose life if very internal. He does not want what is going on outside to interfere with what is going on inside.”

Estimates about the razing and building of the new home put the total construction time around 22 months. And while it’s unclear how much of these plans will eventually be implemented, Jobs is expected to release another detailed plan to the town well before things get started.

One thing is almost certain, though: Steve won’t be buying another old mansion anytime soon.


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