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Eat, Play, Love

Anh-Minh Le | August 10, 2016 | Story Interiors

For Chris Yeo, his desire to entertain is continually satiated by his restaurants. “I like going to them and talking to customers, seeing if they like the food or not,” he says, adding with a laugh: “The restaurants let me be a host, without having to clean up the mess—which is the worst part about entertaining.”

Nearly three decades ago, wanting to bring the cuisine of his native Singapore to San Francisco, he opened his first Straits. While the original has since shuttered, there are currently locations in Burlingame, Santana Row and Houston. At Santana Row, he also has two more eateries: Sino and Roots and Rye.

In the Hillsborough abode that he and his wife, Kelly, have occupied for the past nine years, they often have family over, but the gatherings tend to be informal—not big productions. For example, relatives will arrive with an array of ingredients and prepare meals in the engineered wood (chosen for the consistency of the finish) and Calacatta marble-clad kitchen. They might bring out hot pots and sit around the 10-by-6-foot island, or head to the outdoor dining table, which seats 24 and is flanked by white Pantone chairs.

Now that the house has undergone a two-year renovation, it is ideally suited for such activities. Chris and Kelly moved to the Peninsula in 2007, drawn to the lush half-acre property and the area’s climate. They previously lived in San Francisco; but every time Chris headed south to play golf at Green Hills Country Club in Millbrae, he envied the warmer weather. Although the couple’s decision to leave city life behind was initially met with surprise, according to Kelly, their present situation is “perfect.” They are geographically between their four Silicon Valley restaurants, and their two sons: 30-year-old Julian, who is involved in the family business, lives at Santana Row, while 29-year-old Andrew is in San Francisco and an art student. (Kelly—who handles back-office responsibilities for the restaurants—notes that as she and her husband inch closer to retirement, Hillsborough’s proximity to SFO is another perk for the avid travelers.)

After seeing the magic that architect Michael Kao of MAK Studio worked on a friend’s home, the Yeos enlisted him to not only update and enlarge their residence, but also to spearhead the interior design. Gone are the fiberglass shower walls and the orangey oak floors—which have been replaced with Donovan marble and 7-inch, cerused white oak planks, respectively—and the square footage has doubled to roughly 4,000. “The idea was to come in and really open it up,” says Kao. “You always feel like you’re in a canopy of trees.” All of the windows and doors were replaced; headers were raised to add height to the rooms; and skylights were introduced throughout.

The overall aesthetic is exactly what the homeowners love: “Simple and clean-lined,” says Kelly, who recognized that the furnishings and accessories needed to balance out the modern architecture. “It was important to mix in some wood and older pieces to provide texture and warmth.” To that end, Kao was far-reaching in his sourcing. In the entry, he brought in a wooden tile-cutter plucked from the Alameda flea market. Near the kitchen, a round Restoration Hardware table with a zinc top and reclaimed pine base was paired with vintage chairs from a shop in Los Angeles. The family room is anchored by a 10-foot-long light gray sofa, which Kao’s firm designed. The space’s mostly black, white and gray palette is enlivened with DIY art: Kao and Kelly framed sheets of colorful handmade paper and then mounted them in a grid.

The art above the living-room fireplace also has an unexpected provenance. The flock of birds adhered to the wall is not a fancy installation that the homeowners and architect came across at a gallery or art fair. The birds are actually ceramic salt-and-pepper shakers from EQ3; Kao purchased dozens of them for this project. They seem to further reinforce Kelly’s statement that “everything is all about eating in our family.”

Originally published in the July issue of Silicon Valley

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