California Midcentury meets Latin American modern in Los Feliz
Walk into this house's light-filled “glass bridge,” an entry hallway with floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides, and you're welcomed by raked stucco walls in saturated pink and saffron, a nod to Mexican Modernist architect Luis Barragán. A pint-sized wading pool, tiled in graphic black and white, punctuates the view outside, where a tropical profusion of plants stirs the owner's memories of childhood in Colombia: flowering canna, philodendron and cereus, a fragrant night bloomer found throughout South and Central America.
For Juan Devis, a Colombian-born filmmaker and producer at KCET, and wife artist Laura Purdy, the remodel of their house was all about warmth, emotion and personal connections. In a city where contemporary homes are prized for their clean — some might say cold — simplicity, the 1952 Los Feliz home stands out as something different: California Midcentury meets Latin American modern.
Working with architects Linda Taalman, Alan Koch and Rebecca Rudolph of Taalman Koch Architecture, the couple recently finished work on the 2,000-square-foot home where they have lived since 2003. (At right: A new dining area off the patio has some eucalyptus round cuts set in gravel.) Purdy and Devis bought the house after writing a note to the owners.
“I told them that we would be raising our children here,” Devis recalled.
Although there were four or five other bids on the house, Devis thinks he and Purdy won because the owners wanted the home to go to another family.
Seven years later, however, following costly repairs and patchwork, the couple admitted to themselves that the house needed a more thorough renovation. Though the artists were up for a creative challenge, they were also puzzled about what to do.
“Linda and Alan were the only architects who said, ‘Let's not make it bigger,'” Devis said. Space wasn't added, just rethought.
The most dramatic change was the simplest: The architects moved the bedrooms of Eva Luna, 8, and Simon, downstairs to what had been a small, dark office and playroom. The newly created “children's wing” is composed of two small bedrooms, a connecting bath and a large area for play and work, with cork bulletin boards for art, a media cabinet and two custom desks on casters. A modern version of a barn door allows easy access to the gardens, a lawn used for soccer and a sitting area just outside.
The warm pink glow in the playroom — partly the result of light reflected from the pink walls of the staircase — adds to the playful vibe below.
“It's like a James Turrell light sculpture,” Purdy said.
Before the remodel, the upper floor had three bedrooms and a bath, all set in a row. The architects reconfigured the space as a master bedroom with walk-in closet and larger bathroom, plus an office/guest room. A clerestory window and doors leading to a patio were added to the master bedroom, so it connects to the outdoors. This new “adult wing,” complete with a sprawling bookshelf in the hallway, now feels like its own grown-up retreat.
Artworks throughout the house are often political and confrontational. A photo diptych in the living room by Venezuelan artist Alexander Apostol explores the complicated history of Chavez Ravine by depicting Richard Neutra's original plans for public housing in the area. In the kitchen, Christian Silva's “Pelin,” a photo diptych hung on either side of the stove, shows a Chilean parrot that praised Pinochet. Colombian artist Carlos Salazar Arenas' paintings of newspaper headlines about drug lords and criminals are installed in the dining room.
Other artworks are also deeply personal. Paintings by Devis' father, artist Fernando Devis, hang in the master bedroom and hallway.
The architecture, meanwhile, stays true to its Modernist origins. The house is still filled with natural light and has an open floor plan, with an effortless integration of interiors and garden. Each major room has access to the outside.
Architects also used the palette of materials to give the house a 21st century update. Buoyant cork flooring replaced wood, tile and carpeting; new concrete patios extend the outdoor living areas, custom teak hand pulls were fitted onto cabinetry throughout the house, and walls were covered with the sculpted, colored stucco or graphic wallpaper.
Windows were added, shutters were dumped and dark green siding was sandblasted and recycled as a handsome patchwork fence that surrounds the garden.
Working with artist Laura Cooper, the owners sought to create a landscape that not only melded with the house but was “wild and chaotic, yet soft and romantic,” Purdy said.
Tropical plants were planted close to the house, and beyond Cooper created an outdoor dining room and barbecue area accented by an arresting path made of wood rounds cut from a diseased eucalyptus tree. Climate-appropriate grasses, matilija poppies and aloes have been planted along a snake-like wall made of concrete from the home's old patio. The wall also serves as a curvaceous frame for the vegetable garden and other raised beds.
“It's a feminine and organic touch to the geometric lines of the house,” Devis said.
To help connect the upper and lower levels of the gardens, Cooper designed an 8-foot-wide staircase that helps to shape what the family calls an amphitheater.
“Stairs are social spaces if you make them wide enough,” she said.
Cooper also admitted to planting her first lawn. (“I normally tear them out,” she said with a laugh.) Because the turf naturally captures water from the gardens above, she felt less guilty, and the family really does use it for soccer.
After nine months of remodeling, the home feels like a family oasis while retaining its Modernist grace, something that hasn't faded since 1952.
“Their home is Modernism without pretension,” Cooper said. “I think it's because it is so rustic.”
“We didn't want it to feel precious,” she said. “When people come over, they say, ‘It's still the same house.' "
-- Lisa Boone
Eva Luna Devis, 8, dips her toes in the backyard's tiled wading pool.
Open for touring:
The Purdy-Devis residence by the firm Taalman Koch is included in the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles fall home tour on Sunday. Homes designed by Beth Holden of New Theme, Loren Judaken of Hoffman Vest Judaken and Steven Kent of Steven Kent Architects also are featured. Homes will be open for self-guided touring from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $85 on the day of the event and can be bought from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 4860 Ambrose Ave., Los Angeles.
Photos by Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times