Set on Belvedere Island just north of San Francisco, the contemporary house took VC Todd Chaffee 5 years to build
By JAMES TARMY
BY 2007, Todd Chaffee had already lived in two houses on Belvedere Island when he decided to buy a third.
The venture capitalist (VC) first moved to the tiny, affluent community off the coast of the Tiburon Peninsula in 2000. “Our first place was on the lagoon, a supercool little waterway within the island. Our second house was on the very top of the island, but then we wanted to be closer to the water, and this lot came up,” he says. “I was like, I’m grabbing it.”
Chaffee, an advisory partner at Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), has led investments in Twitter, Netflix, and Kayak. “Most VCs are down in Silicon Valley or the city, but I elected to build on Belvedere because it’s such a special place,” he says. “It’s one of the wealthiest communities in the US, but who cares about that? It’s nice because it’s an understated, friendly, conscious community.”
Chaffee says it takes him 20 minutes to get to downtown San Francisco, 30 minutes to wine country and two minutes to downtown Tiburon. “It’s also one of the safest communities in the country,” he says. “Our newspaper’s police blotter is so funny — some lady is calling about a dog barking too loud, or the fire department is deployed for a cat.”
It is also, in Chaffee’s telling, a very difficult place to build a house. He hired Joshua Aidlin, a co-founder of Aidlin Darling Design, to build a 7,500 sq ft home and Blasen Landscape Architecture to design the grounds of the 0.6-acre (0.24ha) lot. After permits were approved, Chaffee says, the building process took a staggering five years.
“The codes are so restrictive that everything gets over-engineered,” he says. “We have a commercial-grade fire suppression system. It drove me nuts. It’s cool now, but it wasn’t cool then.”
Now, after five years of living on the property, which also includes a separate 800 sq ft guest house, Chaffee has decided to sell it. He’s listed the house with the Sarkissian/ Bullock Team of Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty for US$29.5 million (RM125.75 million).
“For family reasons, we’re moving to Southern California,” he says. “And believe it or not, I’m going to start another build-up in Tahoe.”
After buying the property, the first thing Chaffee decided, he says, “is that we wanted to take advantage of the view, which drove us toward contemporary design”. A more traditional architectural style, he explains, “could have big windows, but you’re kind of fighting the design. With contemporary, you can do massive glass windows all over the place”.
His actual requirements for the house were straightforward: “We knew we wanted two offices, one for myself and one for my wife, and I have four kids we wanted to accommodate.”
As a result, the main house has five bedrooms and six baths, with another bedroom and bath in the guest house to round things out. “We built it based on what we needed as a family,” he says.
The main floor has a series of indoor-outdoor spaces, some of which front the water with views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and Mount Tamalpais; there’s also an interior courtyard on the other side of the property in case “the wind kicks up”, Chaffee says. “There’s a fire pit right off the living room and dining room — no matter what the weather is, we can always entertain.”
Aidlin Darling incorporated a combination of steel, stone, oak, leather and bronze into the home’s interior fittings. “Friends come here and admire the intersections of wood steel and concrete,” Chaffee says. “The architects were obsessing over that.”
There are also engineering feats, he continues, that he has to remind himself not to take for granted. “There’s a huge 10ft-tall, 4ft wide leather-and-metal door integrated into the wall between the media room and another living area,” he says. “You just push on it and it pops out and seals the room off.”
There are also two storage rooms built into the ground. “We haven’t done anything with those, but if things get weird, you could easily turn them into bunkers,” Chaffee says. All of the furniture was custom-made for the house and “comes with the house if someone wants it”, he says.
Chaffee says the cost of the land, plus the cost of construction and landscaping, cost him about US$25 million. “It’s expensive,” he says, “but think about it: We had one of the top architects in the country, one of the top landscape designers in the Bay Area, which wasn’t cheap, and then we hired one of the top construction firms.”
The house is built into the hillside and has huge decks off most of the rooms, with 280-degree views of the water, landscape and downtown. The lower level has an infinity pool and a hot tub, from which Chaffee is able to watch the area’s spectacular sunsets.
When he built the house, “we left all the major trees in place,” he says, “but the other things like olive trees, we just craned them in and then boom — you’re there”.
That, he says, is “one of my secrets of construction. In the grand scheme of things, plants are very inexpensive, so when you do a luxury construction project, you can afford to buy huge mature trees and plants — you don’t have to wait for them to grow”.
Anyone can create, he continues, “magical things by investing in landscaping, and it pays huge dividends”.
Over the years, Chaffee has enjoyed its proximity not only to the city, but also to the San Francisco and Corinthian yacht clubs. “I like to create value for people,” he says. “The magic of Belvedere Island is that it’s an unbelievable place and a world-class location. The luxury of it is I can pop to the city for meetings, pop up to wine country, or I’m two minutes away from going sailing.”
He says he isn’t in a rush to move. “As I talk about this,” Chaffee says, “I almost don’t want to sell it now.” — Bloomberg