L.A. at Home

Design, Architecture, Gardens,
Southern California Living

Category: Neighbors

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.

Continue reading »

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.”

Continue reading »

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.

Continue reading »

At El Sereno Community Garden, planting seeds of change for urban L.A.

Community Gardens Dispatch No. 35: El Sereno, Los Angeles

When a late-night hit-and-run driver recently crashed into El Sereno Community Garden’s just-completed retaining wall, co-founder Marie Salas was on the case. She took pictures. She collected pieces of the car left behind. She canvassed the neighborhood, looking for witnesses. One woman said she had heard the crash and saw where the car was dropped off by a tow truck -- up the hill from the garden.

1-LR-Sereno-barragan At first, the car’s owner denied any responsibility. But Salas, who runs a home-based day care, knew how to deal with the "it-wasn't-me" response. She told the man that she was happy he hadn’t hurt himself or anyone else, and that she was not going to call the police. Then she walked him down to the garden and introduced him to Ruben Barragan, right, one of the oldest gardeners at El Sereno.

By the end, the driver was remorseful. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” he said.

The point of Salas’ anecdote: Although good earth and organic practices are important, the essential ingredients of successful community gardens are solid relationships.

“They are our neighbors and we all make mistakes, but I gave him a lecture first," Salas said. "When you live in a community where there may be a problem, you want those eyes. People take care of you.”

El Sereno Community Garden is on 2.5 acres of L.A. Department of Transportation land, along a busy section of Huntington Road South that had been slated for the 710 Freeway connection to Interstate 10. When that project was shelved, the vacant trash-filled lot was offered up as a garden and came with a city donation of $100,000, half of which went directly to the Conservation Corps, the youth group that builds the infrastructure for many community gardens.

Continue reading »

'Pocket Neighborhoods' documents the modern quest to balance privacy with connection to community

"Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World"

By Ross Chapin, Taunton Press, 224 pp., $30

The phrase “think globally, act locally” takes on new meaning in this recently released book, which shows what is possible when residents in close proximity share a commitment to community.

Chapin, an architect, refers to these groupings, typically 12 to 16 households, as pocket neighborhoods.

Pocket-cover “Pocket neighborhoods are clusters of homes or apartments gathered around a landscaped common area,” he writes, citing other shared elements: a garden courtyard, a pedestrian street, joined backyards or perhaps an alley.

The book presents different types of pocket neighborhoods in rural, suburban and urban areas, including new construction and established homes. Most often, the neighborhoods are a socioeconomic range of families, singles and older residents. The focus, Chapin emphasizes, is a coherent design that connects people and their houses to one another while maintaining privacy within individual homes.

Successful neighborhoods make interaction easier and natural, whether residents are on a front porch, in a garden or inside a common shared building. Sustainability becomes not just a matter of materials but a concept that relates to the emotional and psychological well being of residents.

The book looks at pocket neighborhoods developed with direct involvement from residents. These are thriving models that show bigger is not always better when it comes to houses or neighborhoods. More important than size are a sense of belonging and pride of ownership.

The book highlights “neighborhood pioneers,” and through their stories and interviews with architects, we learn how residents were able to achieve a sense of community. In several instances, it took new laws to ensure development of a pocket neighborhood.

“Pocket Neighborhoods” includes an extensive list of resources and organizations related to urban design and eco-friendly neighborhoods, but this is not a how-to book. It is information and inspiration, a timely discussion as regions grapple with housing density and look for ways to build a sense of community along with every new house, apartment and condo.

PHOTOS: "Pocket Neighborhoods"

-- Jeffrey Head

Photo, top: Conover Commons in Redmond, Wash. Credit: Ross Chapin

Barber-Osgerby MORE BOOKS:

DIY Marimekko in "Surrur"

"Marcel Wanders Interiors"

"Modern Vintage Style"

Barber Osgerby monograph

"Tomorrow's Garden"

L.A.'s most colorful house? Owner Nely Galán, artist Patssi Valdez paint personality onto canal compound

Galan-blocking If you thought L.A.'s Venice canals couldn't possibly get more colorful, look at Nely Galán's revamped waterfront property.

The former president of entertainment for Telemundo and executive producer of "The Swan" bought a Steven Ehrlich-designed home, acquired two cottages next door, hired artist Patssi Valdez as her color consultant and gave the property its own extreme makeover.

Disparate buildings were married into one cohesive compound with paint. The result is an eye-popping, light-splashed ode to Mexican master Luis Barragán.


PHOTOS: Nely Galan's color-splashed compound along the Venice canals

Conquering one's fear of color can lead to bold statements in paint -- and much drama with the neighbors. Why the obsessive quest for the perfect hue can deliver the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.



Photos: Lawrence Anderson


Homes of the Times: California design profiles in pictures

The Dry Garden: Picking the perfect fence

UPDATED: Share some inspiration and upload your own photo of a beautiful, clever or creative fence to our reader-driven picture gallery.

The iconic images of Los Angeles sold to the world typically involve palm trees, beaches and freeways. Those of us who live here, however, know that the true symbol of Southern California is probably a fence. Fences are everywhere. Chain link fences, wrought iron fences, barbed wire fences. Brick, cinderblock and river rock fences. There is so much redwood fencing that it’s a wonder there are any redwoods left.

Leaving aside how ironic it is that there should be outcry about a proposed fence for the home of the mayor of the city of fences, what is rarely considered in our highly framed world is what all this fencing does to plants. That impact is profound.

It’s so customary to fence backyards that pretty much only squirrels and beginner gardeners plant specimen trees on property lines, which in a fenceless world would be the most agreeable place to position them, leaving lovely puddles of light in the center of the yard. But unless it is an espaliered apple or some sort of biddable stone fruit, a tree next to a fence will soon be in trouble. Light and air will be restricted. If your neighbor doesn’t enjoy the shade or fallen leaves, the tree may soon have half a canopy. At the root zone, it might well get mulch and water on one side, and dog pee and weedkiller on the other.

Fences-creeping-fig-V Fences-mixed-stucco-wood-V Fences-decorative-block-V    

Building a fence around a tree often involves driving post-holes and pouring concrete in a sensitive root zone. Planting a tree near a fence means a deformed habit as the tree struggles for light.

Continue reading »

She's at 113 roommates and counting ...

Almost 20 years ago -- Jan. 3, 1991 -- the Los Angeles Times published R. Daniel Foster's first article about Freda Amsel, who at that point had welcomed 44 renters into her house. Foster returned two decades later and found Amsel still renting out three of her rooms, the collective count of boarders now up to 113. Writes Foster:

Freda-Amsel-2"Surveying her Northridge home last month, I found it still strewn with her lighthouse collection — photos, paintings, mugs, models and other depictions — a beacon of hope, she says, for those floundering on life’s rocky shoals. Now 78, she recently self-published a book that chronicles her 34-year journey harboring a wealth of personalities.... The slobs, the neat freaks, the neat freaks who became slobs, fierce fights, enduring friendships, $500 bail posted for one boarder, rent paid in turquoise jewelry by another, a Buddhist monk who 'vegetated instead of meditated,' an atheist who became a Sikh, the 20 boarders who bilked her out of $4,700, and the 29 romances and three marriages between housemates — among other tales."

Read the rest of Freda Amsel's story online or look for it in the print edition of the Los Angeles Times on Saturday.

Photo credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times 

In Santa Monica, a community garden pioneer evolves


Community gardens dispatch No. 4: Main Street, Santa Monica

The first thing you notice when you walk through Santa Monica's wonderfully eccentric Main Street Community Garden are the fences. They divide most of the 69 plots. In 1976, when the garden began as a variation of hippie, back-to-the-country ethos, the land here had no fences, not even around the perimeter.

Community-Main-Street-2 But as homelessness increased, the garden was enclosed and gardeners started putting up fences -- wire, chain link, white picket, bamboo, lattice -- dividing one plot from another.

The fences, however, are coming down -- slowly -- and at the same time, the sense of community in the garden is growing stronger, said Randy Zeigler, a regular at Main Street for three decades.

"If somebody cares enough to take some of my food, more power to them," he said. "In my 30 years, I’ve never been ripped off by anybody to the point of feeling really hurt. In the community garden we share -- knowledge, especially."

Keep reading for more on the sense of community, the benefits of sharing space and Zeigler's lesson in growing good cilantro ...

Continue reading »

Turn your home into an office or classroom? Not so fast ...


Our recent article on backyard bartering is making the rounds on social networks, and one question that's popping up is: Are businesses run from home legal? The answer depends on where you live and what you're doing. Laura Randall reported on homeowners who aren't working from home themselves. They're letting yoga instructors, massage therapists, gardening coaches and other service providers use the property as part of a barter agreement.

The Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning has a list of frequently asked questions about home building and property usage. It says home businesses generally are OK if they meet certain criteria, including:

It is not located in an illegally converted garage or carport.
It is not located in a detached accessory building.
No signage is permitted.
Products or materials for the business cannot be stored on-site.
No mechanical equipment can be used other than light business machines such as computers, fax machines, and non-commercial/industrial copying machines.
No commercial vehicles, tractor trailers or heavy-duty delivery trucks can be used for the delivery of products to or from the premises.
A maximum of one nonresident employee is permitted, and one on-site standard parking space is required for the employee.
A maximum of one client or one vehicle visit per hour is permitted only from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday.
It cannot create or cause noise, dust, vibration, odor, gas, fumes, smoke, glare, electrical interferences, hazards or nuisances.
The home-based occupation must cease when it is a nuisance, is in violation of any regulations or is detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare.

As our article states, these types of arrangements may not thrill neighbors but do help entrepreneurs trying to eke out a living. Interested? Read the full article.

-- Craig Nakano


Recommended on Facebook


L.A. at Home in Print

In Case You Missed It...

Hot Property


Recent Posts
New home for L.A. at Home |  July 17, 2012, 3:45 pm »
The Scout: What's new on Pico Boulevard  |  July 13, 2012, 8:22 am »
Review: Insteon remote-control LED light bulb |  July 10, 2012, 8:28 am »