L.A. at Home

Design, Architecture, Gardens,
Southern California Living

Category: Indoor-Outdoor

Daniel Monti design: A behind-the-screens look

Daniel Monti house exterior
In designing a home for his parents in Venice, architect Daniel Monti wrapped the second story in a sculptural steel screen that mimics the way a majestic Italian stone pine in the backyard filters light, offers privacy and shades the interiors. The screen, made of 4-by-4-foot panels of Cor-ten steel, was bent and perforated by laser-cut circles in six sizes.

Daniel Monti house interior“I liked the idea of using a timeless material,” Monti said. “Cor-ten steel develops a natural rusty patina when exposed to the elements. It’s beautiful today, and it’ll be beautiful 10 and 20 years from now.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Daniel Monti's steel screen in Venice

To prevent the resulting 3,000 steel cut-outs from going to waste, Monti devised an equally stunning indoor feature: a decorative guardrail for the staircase.

The gunmetal-gray circles were welded together in random fashion to form a thin wall. As the sun moves across the sky and throughout the house, the exterior screen and interior guardrail cast shifting shadows that are the negative and positive images of the same circles.

“We have such amazing light here,” said Monti, whose firm is Modal Design. “This was all about bringing light into the house to augment the spaces.”


Good Idea doorPunchouse Ecodesign Group's house in Santa Monica

Good Idea Studio's mini-modern in Echo Park

Homes of the Times: More profiles

-- Emily Young

Photos: Benny Chan / Fotoworks


Lisa Ling house: Modern lines, family circles

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.”

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495-square-foot house: a bit of smart, modern living

Good Idea Design living
John Oddo once dreamed of having a three-story house with postcard views of downtown Los Angeles. Hamstrung by the recession, he ended up with what designer Louis Molina calls “the smallest new house in Echo Park.” The building is only 495 square feet, but thanks to its creative design, Oddo's tiny gem feels positively inviting.

Good Idea Design kitchenBroad expanses of glass and high ceilings allow natural light to flood the interiors. Doors and windows are framed in warm wood. Splashes of color add a sense of playfulness. Sleek built-in cabinets and wood paneling conceal appliances and clutter, and every room opens enticingly to a view of the garden.

“The drive was not how to make the most affordable house,” Molina says. “The drive was to make the biggest experience in a small amount of space — enriched living, not impoverished living.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Modern living in 495 square feet

In 2002, Oddo bought an 1897 Victorian that, after losing its second floor to a fire, had been converted to a one-story duplex. He remodeled the duplex but decided to tear down and replace the shoddy, termite-ridden 1950s rumpus room grafted on in back.

“I was going to build my wonder space — a split design with a stairway in the middle and rooms on both sides staggered every half floor,” Oddo says. “This was at the top of the building boom before everything got too expensive. When I couldn't get a construction loan, that put the kibosh on the whole thing.”

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Small Schindler house in Inglewood remodeled for a new era

Architect Steven Ehrlich is sitting in the front garden of a 1940 Rudolph M. Schindler home in Inglewood that he recently restored for daughter Onna Ehrlich-Bell and her family. Forty-foot-tall liquidambars line the street of mostly post-World War II houses. It's a real Ozzie and Harriet neighborhood, traditional to its core except for this low-slung piece of modern design. For two years, this is where Ehrlich spent much of his time — “channeling Schindler,” he says with a chuckle.

Schindler-Ehrlich-livingAs Ehrlich tells the story, it was serendipity that he came upon the home by the renowned midcentury architect whose iconic Kings Road House in West Hollywood is often considered the big bang of California Midcentury Modernism. Ehrlich and his wife, Nancy Griffin, had been invited to dinner by friends Kali Nikitas and Richard Shelton.

"I'd never been to their home before," Ehrlich says, "but as soon as I walked through the door, I asked, 'Is this a Schindler?' "

PHOTO GALLERY: Side-by-side Schindler houses in Inglewood

It was. And so was the house next door, and, incredibly, another down the street. As fate would have it, the Schindler next door was the subject of a probate sale the next day. “He built three houses on the same street in 1940 for a developer on spec, which was very unusual for him,” says Kimberli Meyer, director of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Kings Road House, where Schindler explored the relationship of space, light and form, as well as communal living.

Ehrlich toured the Inglewood probate house the following day, then put in the winning bid: $265,000.

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A little genius: Reviving an L.A. master's modestly sized house

Schindler Nikitas living
It was October 2007, the height of the real estate frenzy, and Kali Nikitas and Richard Shelton had all but given up on owning their own home. “We were spending all our time looking at houses, then bidding on them and never getting one,” says Shelton, who, along with his wife, is an academic administrator at Otis College of Art and Design in Westchester. “It was driving us crazy.”

Around midnight of the day they called it quits, Nikitas went on Craigslist for one last try. She typed in “Westside” and a price range of $450,000 to $650,000. The first house to appear was a modern home. She clicked on it. That's when the screaming began. “Oh, my God! Oh, my God! It's a Schindler!”

PHOTOS: Side-by-side Schindlers in Inglewood

She called at 8 the next morning, and at 2 p.m. she and Shelton met with owner Grace Berryman. "You're suppose to play it cool. We did not play it cool," Nikitas says, laughing. "I told her, 'We're going to give you everything we have. We want this house.' "

Schindler Nikitas lightAsked by Berryman what they planned to do with the house, the couple answered in unison: Restore it. “That must have been the right answer,” Shelton says.

Two hours later they shook hands on the deal. They were the new owners of an authentic two-bedroom, one-bath, nearly 1,000-square-foot house by one of the most renowned architects of the 20th century, Rudolph M. Schindler. Price: $580,000.

“Never in our wildest dreams,” Nikitas says, “did either one of us ever think we would be living in a home by such an important architect.”

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Grow Outdoor Design's modern native garden

Grow Outdoor Design 2

When Scott Lenz and Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz walk from the driveway to their front door, it's through a silvery-green sea of California native shrubs and gently swaying grasses. They feel the soft crunch of gravel and decomposed granite underfoot and the dappled shade from a Mediterranean olive tree overhead. A low L-shaped concrete wall doubles as a bench. Wide steps and a shaded seating area span the front of the house.

Grow Outdoor Design 1For the L.A. couple, pictured above, the garden represents their definition of a modern garden: California native plants and other low-water selections, a clean-lined aesthetic, outdoor living areas and a strong connection to the neighborhood beyond. Rather than hiding this inviting landscape behind a tall hedge or fortress-like wall, the couple and their two children treat it as a friendly space where they can interact with others in the Beverly Grove area.

“We feel committed to our neighborhood,” said Gilberg-Lenz, a physician who moved into the 1920s Spanish-style bungalow 14 years ago when she and her husband, a documentary writer and producer, were expecting their first child. “Every time a young family walks by with a stroller and asks about a plant, we're making a connection.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Grow Outdoor Design's modern native garden

In 2006, Gilberg-Lenz and her husband decided to renovate rather than move. Their goal was to modernize the home using green building practices while keeping its original footprint.

“We wanted to maximize our living spaces — indoors and outdoors,” Gilberg-Lenz said.

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Home tour: Vintage living in Joshua Tree

Steve Halterman and Glenn Steigelman don't take the term “garage sale” literally. Steigelman, a ceramics fan, has been known to peek around the sides of houses and ask: Might you be willing to part with that pot? (And you can keep the plant. He just wants the container.)

Joshua Tree bedroomHalterman, the grandson of one of the founders of a swap meet in El Cajon, grew up buying and selling at flea markets and has the keen eye of a lifelong scavenger. “Wherever I go, I am going to be hitting thrift stores and flea markets,” the filmmaker and set designer for national magazine fashion shoots said. “I will pull the car over in the middle of a job if I see a yard sale.”

Such dedication has paid off handsomely. At a time when so much of the country is obsessed with thrift, Halterman and Steigelman's Joshua Tree retreat is all about the joy of secondhand finds. Almost all of the furnishings in the couple's midcentury home — a retreat that is at once stylish, humorous and period correct — are bargains of one sort or another. Many pieces are pedigree vintage designs from the likes of Architectural Pottery and Glenn of California. Other items, such as troll dolls, string art and depictions of E.T., suggest an appreciation for kitsch and pop culture ephemera.

PHOTOS: Joshua Tree vintage retreat

The couple, who principally live in Silver Lake, purchased the Joshua Tree property as a weekend getaway in 2006. It was a post-World War II shack that went up when a government program granted 5 acres to homesteaders who built a 500-square-foot structure. Subsequent remodeling in the late 1970s added a guest bedroom, kitchen and screened-in porch that Halterman has since turned into a crafts studio where he makes Modernist stained-glass lanterns and windows.

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Donna Karan's Urban Zen store opens, for good

0-Karan-Urban-Zen-courtyardDonna Karan’s Urban Zen fashion and home store opened Monday in West Hollywood, where the stone facade leads to one of those enchanted, can’t-see-from-the-street courtyard experiences.

Karan had staged a pop-up store in West Hollywood before. Now she’s setting down retail roots with a feel-good hook: Ten percent of the store’s net sales will benefit her Urban Zen Foundation. (Updated: A representative from Urban Zen kindly questioned our earlier characterization of the foundation and what it does, so let us simply suggest that if you're curious, you're welcome to explore the website yourself.)

The new store's three buildings — two where furniture, clothing and accessories are mixed and one that houses a beautiful kitchen — form an L-shape around a private garden area. Karan's low-slung, minimalist furniture is on display inside and out, including enormous teak sofas loaded with enough cushions and pillows to outfit a yoga studio. Like the sofas, the dining tables and chairs are made of teak and exude a world-traveled ease.

But against the proliferation of woods — the ceiling beams, the dark-stained floors, even a pair of primitive-looking wooden boats that are propped up near the entrance — the store also features some less expected materials. Karan’s huge bean bags are made of neoprene, and  beaded Haitian necklaces are made of recycled cereal boxes. Artist Joscelyn Himes’ hand-dyed throw pillows are finished using shibori, a Japanese dyeing technique.

As for that kitchen? It’s not part of the shopping experience. Karan plans to use the space frequently for entertaining when the New York designer is in Los Angeles, and the ease and elegance of an on-site cooking facility is her minimalist alternative to ordering takeout.

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Modern living: A 2011 spin on a 1951 photo


0-LAT-Home-1951 The Times photo studio was abuzz (and aflame) earlier this week as we re-created an October 1951 Los Angeles Times Home Magazine cover, swapping out the furniture of the past  with California design of the present.

Inspired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's authentic restaging of that 1951 scene, the Home crew earlier this month took key elements -- indoor armchair, patio chair, planter, fire feature and so on -- and nominated contemporary California designers and manufacturers who embodied modern living. We added a category, pet beds, to acknowledge the larger role that pets play in our lives (and our pocketbooks). Then we asked you to vote.

More than 6,700 votes were cast, and the designs pictured in the photo at top represent your favorites, assembled and staged by writers David A. Keeps and Lisa Boone with an assist from Katy McNerney. Your choices -- a rechargeable LED outdoor lamp, a computer-cut room divider and more -- spoke volumes about what modern living means today.

PHOTOS: California design poll nominees and winners

INTERACTIVE KEY: The 2011 photo deconstructed

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LACMA re-creates 1951 Times photo for 'Modern Way' exhibit

Living Modern

0-LAT-Home-1951 The Los Angeles County Museum of Art will open “California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way” on Saturday with a 60-year-old magazine cover brought to life. An October 1951 cover of the L.A. Times Home magazine has been re-created as part of the exhibit, complete with plastic Eames armchair, Van Keppel-Green cord patio furniture and other pieces of modern living. It's a scene that Times editors presented with the headline: “What Makes the California Look.”

Full article: LACMA re-creates 1951 Home cover

“People are still clamoring for accessible modernism, and these pieces fulfill that desire as well as speak to interest in the past and in how people lived when there was promise and hope, the dawning of a new age,” said Bobbye Tigerman, co-curator of the show. “It speaks to contemporary desires and hearkening back to old times.”


"California Design 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way"

Time-lapse video: Eames House living room moved to museum

Eames House launches preservation project

-- David Hay

Photo: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times


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