Google Engineer Turns Home Into Gamer's Fantasy-LAN



The best things in life always start off with a crazy idea. At least, that's how it all began for 29-year-old Google software engineer Kenton Varda.

In 1996, on his 14th birthday, Varda hosted his first LAN party at his parents' house in Minneapolis. Although they weren't yet called "LAN parties." It was just a group of kids coming together to play Doom 2 using two computers connected by a serial cable, with a network set up to allow four players to play at once. Simple stuff.

Fast forward over a decade later and Varda is an engineer at Google with a full-fledged passion for gaming. Throw into the mix a small lot of land bought during the recession, some significant savings, and an architect father -- and a gamer's dream was born.

"Maybe [my dad] could design a house for me?" Varda had mused. "I could do anything I wanted with it. I could customize it for any purpose, not limited by what 'normal' people want in a house."

And so that's exactly what he did.

If you haven't already laid eyes upon Varda's now-famous LAN party-optimized home in Palo Alto, Calif., then kids, you're in for a treat. His 1,426-square-foot home boasts two gaming areas featuring 12 fold-out computer stations housed in custom-built cabinetry (there are six computer stations per room, making the setup ideal for team vs. team gaming). A back room houses the actual computers themselves, which are networked together (hence the local area network, or LAN) and connected to a server that shares a master hard drive. Also in the gaming area, you'll find two HDTVs, one 59-inch and one 55-inch, both boasting a selection of game consoles connected to each HDTV.

All geek gadgetry aside, though, what's so fascinating about Varda's entire gaming space is how sleek and aesthetically clean it appears. All wires, computers and cables are seamlessly hidden. Ample sunlight floods the museum-like space, from generous windows, reflecting off the glossy, pale wood cabinetry. Varda himself comments that the game stations fold up when not in use, with the monitors rising to eye level, where they can be used to display artwork. It simply doesn't look like, well, the consummate nerd paradise that it is. In fact, it almost looks -- dare we say it -- sexy?

The house, stylishly designed by Varda's architect father, Rich Varda, into a genuinely livable live-and-play space, seems to be an (unintentional) physical testament to gaming's rapid cultural ascendancy and legitimacy as an art form. And it's perfect timing. Just this year, the National Endowment for the Arts officially announced games as eligible for art funding grants, while in April, New York's Tribeca Film Festival honored video games "Rockstar" and 'L.A. Noire' with screenings and discussions on the games, the technology behind them, and the narrative and action involved in the medium. Similarly, the Smithsonian Institution is hosting an exhibit entitled "The Art of Video Games" with a whopping 3.7 million people voting on which games should be included in the exhibit.

"Trying to describe people who play video games is like trying to describe people who watch movies or people who read books," Varda tells AOL Real Estate. "A gamer is no different from any other person who happens to have a hobby. We're all just people ... with different tastes."

For those gamers waiting to read about how they can drop in on a LAN party at Varda's party pad, some unfortunate news. Since Varda actually lives in the space, he doesn't allow private bookings for parties, nor does he open the gaming areas to the public. We do have pictures, though:

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Varda does, however, offer instructions, tips and advice on his blog for the thousands of interested gamers who want to replicate the house's design. He even posts useful diagrams and measurements of all the custom cabinetry in the space, and is refreshingly transparent about all the costs involved in gaming-associated home modifications (around $40,000) -- even suggesting more cost-efficient alternatives.

His most important piece of advice, however?

"The only real requirement for anything to end up awesome is for it to start out crazy," Varda promises. "If it doesn't start out crazy, that means everyone else is already doing it."