On Venice Garden & Home Tour, old blends with new
The driveway has disappeared, and in its place is a verdant entry garden. Walk past the precast concrete block wall edged with succulents, and cross a diagonal stepping stone path toward a covered veranda. A series of thresholds -- some sheltered, some open to the sky -- draw you in. And only when you reach Santiago Ortiz and Mimi Wheeler's front door do you notice the sunken tropical garden -- a lush surprise.
Their garden-focused retreat will be among 30 properties open to the public Saturday for the annual Venice Garden & Home Tour, concentrated this year in neighborhoods east of Lincoln Boulevard and in the Gregory Ain Tract in Mar Vista.
In 2007, when Ortiz and Wheeler first viewed a 1940s California ranch house in Venice, they were impressed by its generously sized lot with impressive stands of mature trees and shrubs. To Ortiz, a designer who was raised in Medellin and Bogota, Colombia, and educated in architecture and fine arts at Rhode Island School of Design, the 11,000-square-foot property on Appleton Way offered a chance to create a new residence large enough for a growing family and his home-based studio.
The backyard, with its no-mow lawn and view of the muiracatiara-clad house.
Nearly all of the existing garden was preserved through the renovation, which resulted in a contemporary two-story, L-shaped residence. A ficus hedge, a stand of bamboo and a row of redbud trees were saved so they still provide screening and privacy in the frontyard. Art Maltby of Venetian Paradise Landscapes installed additional landscaping.
"We completely omitted the idea of the car from the frontyard," said Ortiz, who served as owner-builder through his firm Ortiz Mexia Projects. "I like that our house is hiding behind the vegetation." (That's Ortiz at right, by the block wall.)
Warm, organic finishes give the home a friendliness not always associated with contemporary architecture. The exterior is clad in a South American tropical hardwood called muiracatiara, which takes on a dark redwood hue when oiled. Rather than using steel columns and beams for the home's exposed framework, Ortiz specified glulams, the engineered structural lumber. The 8-by-8 columns and 4-by-16 beams are bolted together and exposed as a design detail, inside and out.
Ortiz divided the home into two distinct wings. The dominant one -- 47 feet long -- spans the width of the property. The main living space functions as a great room, with cooking, dining and lounging areas delineated by overhead beams. A 12-foot-high ceiling helps to focus attention outside.
"I paid particular attention to the volumes, an aesthetic that reminds me of the colonial architecture of Colombia's northern coast," he said. "High ceilings do a great favor to a person's psyche. They also bring more light into this space."
Outdoors, a concrete patio is furnished to correspond with an adjacent interior room, doubling the living space when the sliding doors are opened.
"Its other advantage is to serve as a 'light shelf,' which allows sunlight to strike the patio and reflect onto the ceiling and walls of the great room," Ortiz said.
When the family and guests are seated indoors, the framed view is of eucalyptus and citrus trees, lush palms, tree ferns and New Zealand flaxes, as well as a tufted no-mow lawn. What you don't see is the slender swimming pool, tucked at the edge of the patio.
"We didn't want to look at a pool dominating the backyard," Ortiz said. "While the pool is present when we're on the patio, it's not at the top of the aesthetic. The garden is."
Ortiz and Wheeler say that they designed the house as a place to raise their two young children and, later, to grow old. "The house looks like it has been settled here for a long time," Ortiz said. "And we're planning to be, too."
SEE THE GARDEN
What: The Venice Garden & Home Tour is a self-guided walking tour with 30 stops. A feature of this year's route will be the Gregory Ain tract, an architecturally significant enclave of 52 modest one-story homes from 1947.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: The starting point is 804 Broadway St., Venice
Tickets: $60 in advance, $70 day of tour. Proceeds benefit the Neighborhood Youth Assn.'s Las Doradas Children's Center
Information: (310) 821-1857, www.venicegardentour.org
-- Debra Prinzing
Photos: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times