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Minarc transforms a former five-plex into an eco-friendly single-family home

When Rachel Klauber-Speiden first challenged architects Tryggvi Thorsteinsson and Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir to transform a 1962 apartment complex into a single-family home, they did not ask her for a wish list of things. “They asked me, 'How do you live? How do you want to live?'” says Klauber-Speiden. 

She and husband Josh Empson wanted a family-friendly space that was both open and private. She also wanted her architects to build in a way that was “as kind to the Earth as possible.” 

Minarcblog2 She turned to Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir and Thorsteinsson, principals of the Santa Monica firm Minarc, largely because of their passion for green design. “I don’t like wasting things,” she says.

The architects started by gutting the first floor and creating a free-flowing open floor plan but leaving the second floor largely intact. 

“We left more than 50% of the building walls,” Thorsteinsson says. “As architects we have a responsibility to build something that is  sustainable.” 

What was not used was donated to Habitat for Humanity. “Our garage doors, sinks, everything that was reusable was donated. Someone came and salvaged the iron from the original staircase,” Klauber-Speiden says. Repurposed wood from the original apartment complex was even used to create arresting beams over what had once been the mailbox area. 

Eco-friendly inventive touches accentuate the whimsical spirit of the house. Inexpensive recycled rubber was used to create bathroom sinks. Kitchen drawers are made from recycled cork and rubber, and the kitchen countertops and dining-room table are made from recycled wood scraps. “It looks like a giant cutting board,” Klauber-Speiden says. 

The Icelandic architects say the house represents what they want to do in the world: maximize materials, minimize waste. “We come from a land where everything was imported, everything was valued and used. We didn’t even see plastic bottles until the 1990s,” Thorsteinsson says.

Read more about the Rainbow House, or click to see pictures of the Santa Monica house.

-- Lisa Boone

Photo credits: Nancy Pastor / For The Times

Comments () | Archives (7)

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I can't imagine how turning a 5-unit apartment complex into a single family home can be called "sustainable". Building "kinder to the earth" means a smaller footprint for a family, not a larger one; and replacing 5 dwelling units with one dwelling unit takes the whole idea and turns it on its head. I'm sure that the owners and the architects were well meaning, but the original premise of the design is about as anti-"green" as anything I can think of. "Green " design does not mean putting in a yoga studio -- "Green design" means having the living room couch open up to store the yoga mats and using THAT space for yoga. (or the dining room,or the backyard). Especially in Los Angeles, where the outdoor space can be used nearly all year around, "green design" most definitely does not mean a 3800 square foot house for one family.

How "eco-friendly" is it for one family to live in a space that used to accomodate five? Even if the building used to accomodate five studio apartments it still housed more people than it currently does. That's not being “as kind to the Earth as possible.”

Is transforming housing for five families into single-family housing really green?

As interesting as the specific elements of design are in any home, I couldn't get past the fact that this one house replaced the homes for five families. Living in Venice, I see firsthand the tens of thousands of people coming and going via Lincoln Blvd. to Santa Monica for work. The gridlock--and noxious fumes--created by people driving far from their homes for work is a direct result of bad policies that foresake planning for trendy design criteria. Santa Monica, get a grip!

This is "kind to the Earth" in an Al Gore/John Edwards sort of way...Californian greens really are the worst.

The apartment had seven people living in it. It's not as if each unit had a family of four living in it. The house now has five people living in it. A difference of two people and a nice piece of architecture was added to the community. There are other important aspects to the building that make it a decent example of eco-friendly building like solar panels, radiant flooring, insulation, window and door placement, natural ventilation, fluorescent lighting, and more.

Throughout LA and the world, single family homes are being torn down to make way for multi-unit property developments. Time will tell what happens in 20 or 40 years when they become outdated but there are multiple owners. Will they fight each other as to the future of the property?

When you go the other way, a multi-family structure moves to a single owner-it increases the property value and reduces stress on city services (schools, police, hospitals, roads, etc).

You need a balance-you want a variety of housing options (renting and owning, low income and high income). Yes the city would be in trouble if every apartment building were replaced with single family homes. On the other hand to go the other way, replace all single families with multi units would overly stress city services.

In a time of home foreclosures and vacancies throughout the city, this one project probably balances the many other developments in Santa Monica. Plus it looks great! Kudos to the owners and the architects! Kudos to ebay too-they purchased items there too!


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