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Lisa Ling house: Modern lines, family circles

December 3, 2011 |  6:00 am

Lisa Ling Punchouse kitchen
For 15 years, television journalist Lisa Ling was a nomad. She worked out of New York, Chicago, Miami and Washington, D.C., reporting stories from Colombia, North Korea, Uganda and Russia. "I forgot what 'home' meant," Ling says. "For me, it was United Airlines Seat 4B." After Ling married radiation oncologist Paul Song, the couple settled in Santa Monica with plans to start a family and build a house with room to grow, space for entertaining and a distinctly modern design. Marco DiMaccio of Punchouse Ecodesign Group delivered all that and more, putting the finishing touches this fall on a concrete, wood and glass prism that reflects his clients' heritages and showcases their budding art collection.

Punchouse entrance“Lisa and Paul are comfortable with who they are, and I certainly wasn't blind to their heritage,” DiMaccio says. As a result, the house contains features that reflect its owners in fresh and quirky ways. As he puts it: “I like to surprise people and make them smile.”

Take the hard-to-miss lamp out front. Scaled in proportion to the two-story facade and illuminated to glow at night like a giant paper lantern, the light is fashioned from 2,000 translucent plastic Chinese takeout containers. “It took me, my girlfriend, Lisa and Paul four days to glue them together,” DiMaccio says.

PHOTO GALLERY: Lisa Ling-Paul Song house

Another frontyard attention-getter is the 5 1/2-foot-deep sunken conversation area with steps covered in artificial turf. Hidden from passersby behind a wall, it's proved to be a favorite with young and old alike. “The pit is amazing,” Ling says. “Kids stop crying when we put them inside, and on Sundays, Paul and I read the paper there with a cup of coffee.”

Ling, best known for her stint on “The View” and currently host of “Our America With Lisa Ling” on OWN, is Chinese. Song is Korean. DiMaccio kept their ethnicity in mind throughout the design process, and nowhere is it more evident than at the entrance.

The 9-foot-wide foam-filled wood front door is finished by hand like a surfboard in high-gloss red, a color associated with good luck in China. Next to it is a pond that flows indoors and contains a Plexiglas grate cut in the shape of the Chinese characters for “double happiness.”

Lisa Ling's dining area

Inside, a Herman Miller bench provides a convenient spot for removing shoes. And on the underside of the dining table, a vinyl decal in an Oriental basket weave pattern is subtly reflected in the stainless-steel base.

Ling and Song personalized the interiors further by framing their traditional Korean wedding outfits in the dining room. A series of arresting portrait photos by contemporary Chinese artist Huang Yan stare out from an adjacent wall.

“We were looking for a New York loft-like space, with large, empty walls so we could display all our things,” Song says.

Other pieces of art add the patina of age. That's a large Korean silk screen of ancestral figures at the bottom of the broad, light-washed staircase, and those are Chinese calligraphy paintings mounted onto the breezeway's pocket doors. A watercolor by 20th century Chinese master Qi Baishi, a gift from the artist to Ling's grandfather, takes pride of place in the couple's bedroom.

“Although I grew up in a very traditional-looking house, a family friend introduced me to architecture when I was about 12 years old,” Ling says, adding that he took her on home tours and to lectures at USC, so she learned about Neutra, Eames, Soriano and other icons of Midcentury Modern design.

That early influence guided the couple in planning their dream house. “We didn't want any wasted space,” Ling says. “We wanted everything to be open and functional,” particularly the ground floor, where she and her husband expected as many as 50 people for family gatherings.

Punchouse diningThe new house was initially envisioned to be 2,700 square feet but grew to 4,300, making the goal of reducing the home's carbon footprint more challenging. DiMaccio specified 64 Sanyo photovoltaic panels. Besides powering energy-efficient LEDs and appliances, the panels generate electricity for radiant-heated flooring and hot water. Air conditioning was skipped in favor of passive cooling.

Lithium-ion batteries store power in the garage and return excess electricity to the grid. A car recharging station was installed for the two zero-emission vehicles that Ling and Song plan to buy.

The energy-neutral house recently earned the platinum LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. How much electricity the system can generate will vary with the weather, and only time will tell how well the panels are performing, but Song said he does expect to get $50 to $150 a month for the electricity they sell back to Southern California Edison.

Environmental concerns also ruled out lawn, which would have demanded regular water and mowing. Instead, DiMaccio called for a desert landscape of crushed granite, boulders, paloverde trees and succulents selected by Lindeman/Stevens Landscape Design. A 5,000-gallon rainwater tank buried underground collects runoff for irrigation. So far, the garden has survived on stored water alone.

During construction, Ling says, the house was almost an afterthought because of crises that included the detainment of her sister, Laura, also a TV journalist, in North Korea; the death of Song's father; a car accident that left Song's mother critically injured; and Ling's miscarriage.

“Despite what was going on in our life, Marco persevered,” Ling says. “He put so much love in every square inch. That's why we love this house.”

Her job still takes her on the road, but Ling finally has a home to which she can't wait to return. “The house symbolizes a place that Paul and I at times doubted we'd ever get to,” she says. “It represents what's most important: family and relationships. It's a place for us to all come and be together.”

-- Emily Young

This article and photo gallery are parts of our Homes of the Times series, which runs weekly. Comments: home@latimes.com.

Lisa Ling bedroom

DEMOLITION: REDUCING WASTE

When Lisa Ling learned how much demolition waste usually winds up as landfill, she was aghast. “We wanted to tear down as efficiently and economically as possible,” she says.

Working with Waste Management and Habitat for Humanity, designer Marco DiMaccio had the existing 3,300-square-foot house dismantled and all lumber stripped of nails for reuse. Windows, doors, metal lath (base for plaster), plaster and concrete were salvaged and recycled.

He saved roof boards known as skip sheeting. That was milled, stained and used as his clients' upstairs floor. He also repurposed roof gravel in their garden.

“Demo took longer and cost more, but there was a tax benefit, and we achieved a 100% diversion rate,” DiMaccio says. “We even found someone to pulverize asphalt shingles. Nothing went to the landfill.”

-- Emily Young

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Photos: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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