June 27, 2009 will undoubtedly be remembered as the most bloggable day of the year. Two tours, two eateries, all incredible. First up – the Dwell on Design Home Tour…
Friend M had mentioned the conference and its accompanying home tours a few weeks ago. It seemed like a great way to see more of LA unique homes, this time on a more personal scale: people are presently living in all of them, so it didn’t have any of the “museum” feel of homes like the Schindler or Hollyhock house. The Dwell website gives a nice overview of the “vibe” of the tour: This self-drive tour through Los Angeles East Side substitutes hills for beaches and hipster enclaves for coastal fog. This isn’t a part of L.A. that many tourists get to see. Silver Lake, Eagle Rock and Glassell Park unroll their peacefully leafy streets for anyone who dares to stop by.
Wow. That’s all I kept saying as we left each of the 6 homes on this tour. The lead-up to the event was kind of secretive. After signing up, we were told to await further instructions. 5 days prior to the tour, we received word as to where to pick up our packets on the tour day. When we arrived at the staging area we received a passport guide that gave us specific addresses, as well as information on each home. At the homes, the passport was our admission ticket, and was stamped when we completed each visit. The homes could be visited in any order, so we mapped out a route and set out. Below is a brief overview of each distinctive home. There’s no way I’ll be able to provide an exhaustive write-up on each. Rather, I’ll try to convey my overall impression and use links from Dwell.
Three Trees, Levine Residence. We opted to head out “far” to Eagle Rock and then work our way back to downtown. And this wound up being fortuitous since this first stop on the tour made a great impression on me. It wound up being one of my favorite homes. It’s situated in a modest neighborhood – many of the homes on the street are older nondescript homes. However, it was clear from the front that this one stood out, with its landscaping and modern elements. The architects took an 1100 sq ft home and expanded it to 1500. In doing so, they incorporated into the interior spaces several trees that were inhibiting outward expansion and would otherwise have been removed.
One thing I especially loved about this home was that each space served a purpose. There was no wasted space. Another great feature was the use of skylights, louvers, transom windows and clerestory windows to allow natural light to be shared among all rooms without sacrificing privacy. It worked really well. The owner/designers also made use of environmentally friendly technologies like gray water reclamation and passive cooling. The end result was a wonderfully comfortable and livable dwelling.
Hidden House. The GPS navigation device had a terrible time guiding us to this residence. This may have been in part because Cazador Street maintains its name despite multiple intersections and turns along the way. Another was because its situated at the bottom of a long driveway in a canyon. In fact, the remoteness from the street played a large role in its design, as the architects opted to use much of the foundation of an existing home to avoid city restrictions.
There were many appealing elements of this home, including its L-shape that wrapped around a patio with a view, and the many walls of glass that removed the boundaries between inside and outside. In terms of placement of the rooms and effective use of the space, this house didn’t do as much for me. Still, it was one of the more novel sites of all the homes we visited. This home was one of several in which we kept noting how remarkable it was that we were right in the middle of America’s 2nd-largest city. With trees and open space, it felt miles from the urban sprawl.
Baxter Residence. Definitely one of the more ambitious of homes we toured. While the outside presents a unified front to the street, the interior is made up of multiple living spaces; in fact, it’s a great house for entertaining and accommodating guests, with numerous lounging and sleeping areas. All of these different spaces revolve around a lawn and pool area – not an easy feat considering the steep hillside that this house and its neighbors are built on.
Pesenti-Williams House. When I read about a very interesting house in a recent LA Times article, I was thrilled to learn at the end of the article that it would be featured on the Dwell Tour. So it was interesting to compare the reality with the expectations I had developed.
For one, this house is on a large piece of land (two lots). No wonder, then, that the owners have plans for an urban farm complete with chickens and goats. At the street, all you see of the property is a solid wooden fence, with random stained glass inserts that convey a funky, artsy feel. Upon entering the gate, you pass by a lot of minimally developed space that will perhaps be the farm/garden area.
The thing I loved most about this house is its trademark skylight that runs almost the length of the home and features cutout plywood in the shape of tree leaves. The light passing the cutouts create wonderful shadows dappling the walls and changing throughout the day. Below the skylight, the rooms take advantage of the feature and open onto a hallway underneath.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the master bedroom, and the child’s room was pretty unremarkable. But then again, this is a home people live in, not a showroom. It was very neat to see what an architect did to create a livable space on an usual lot.
Work House. This building had the most urban feel of all the stops on the tour. For one thing, it was in the most urban location, just off of Silver Lake Blvd a block from Sunset. For another, the space was used for both home and office. We entered into a large open space that serves as a studio area for an architectural firm. In the back, and above, are the living quarters for the firm’s founding architect.
One of the things that appealed to me most with this home was its interior design. It was clean and simple, and worked very well with the openness of the floorplan. Most of the larger walls were white, and the windows allowed ample light into the whole space.
Casa Cuadrada. With the exception of the aptly-named Hidden House, this was the most remotely-situated home. High on a hill, it was also set back from the street by another hill, and dense landscaping. As we rounded the corner of the driveway, the landscaping became a bit more structured as we then started on a walkway to the front door. And then as we neared the door, the landscaping became further manicured, consisting of lemon trees. The cool thing about these trees is that they inspired the lemon yellow in the concrete tiles of the entry plaza, as well as the lemon yellow walls that flanked the front door. I thought this was a fun concept, and it gave some foreshadowing as to what we’d see throughout the house: the owners/designers created a modern design built around a mix of original art, knick knacks and family heirlooms.
The centerpiece of the home, literally, is a courtyard that allows light, breezes, and nature to be accessible throughout most rooms of the house. It also forces a floorplan that directs visitors in a circular pattern throughout all the rooms of the home. As with the Three Trees house, I thought that each room in this home used space very well. Each room had a useful purpose and was nicely proportioned.
I also especially loved the way in which this house takes advantage of its location. It borders on a large nature park, and the hillside location also provides views of the hillside below. So there are phenomenal views from many of the windows, and from the property itself. Features of the home and landscaping are clearly designed to get the most from those views and showcase them.
We completed the home tour and then paid a visit to the design exhibition at the convention center – that’s a whole story in itself. A great way to see how people are finding ways to live creatively and comfortably in this unique city.