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Maya Lin-designed Venice house featured on architecture walking tour

May 19, 2010 |  6:38 am

Participants in Sunday’s Venice Art & Architecture Tour will experience a nearly completed, 4,000-square-foot row house that is being lauded as artist and architect Maya Lin’s first from-the-ground-up residential design on the West Coast.

The property is owned by Christine Nichols, an art dealer and curator of drawings and other works on paper who is a longtime resident of the Venice walk-street where she owns the three-level, Lin-designed “urban beach house.”

As part of the tour, Nichols will display some of the original drawings, studies and elevations made by the architect during the design process. “The chance to work with someone who is as thoughtful as Maya Lin was riveting,” she said.

Nichols and Lin met in 2000, introduced by Russell Ferguson, then associate curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

A few years later, after acquiring a 30-by-90 foot lot between Pacific Avenue and the beach, Nichols asked Lin to design a building in which she could live and work.

“I think it was Christine’s need to have a house that also was an incubator for art that first attracted me to the program,” Lin said in an email interview from her New York studio. “It is a house that opens up completely and invites one in – and allows for a studio that could be open or closed to the house or public, allowing for a flexible living/working arrangement all connected by an indoor-outdoor space.”

Lin created a two-part building with a private residence to the south side of Nichols' lot and a separate studio on its north edge. Lin used different materials to visually delineate the function of both sections. The exterior of the building’s residential portion is finished with smooth-trowel cement-colored stucco; the studio, which “floats” on top of a carport and has a separate entrance from an alley, is clad with redwood boards.

The project was built by Billy Orr and James O'Sullivan of Venice-based Stonecastle Construction using sustainable elements, including FSC-certified redwood, formaldehyde-free boards and red elm for interior millwork, recycled glass finishes, bamboo floors, low-VOC materials and paints, and a rooftop solar panel system.



Open-air spaces connect the architecture’s live-work areas, creating semi-transparent rooms on all three levels.

“My goal was to create an urban vertical garden caught between Christine’s two worlds – her living space and art space – and to have it go from being very quiet and relaxing to being open and inviting for everyone to hang out, see the ocean ... and be much more social,” Lin explained.

The lower level has an in-ground spa with access to a slender side yard and outdoor shower where Nichols and her guests hang wet suits, swimsuits and towels and store surf boards. On the second level, a courtyard-like area connects to Nichols’ kitchen and also serves as a foyer for the 400-square-foot studio and loft space for Volume 2, her art consultancy. Openings created by horizontal redwood slats provide air circulation and shade the inner chamber from the western sun. Hinged and louvered sections act as shutters and a wind-break, depending on the season. A staircase leads to the third level, which has a sleek outdoor fireplace installed in one wall; another set of steps climbs to a roof deck where Nichols plans to plant vegetables and a small orchard.










From the walk-street to the south, Nichols enters a low, neighbor-friendly gate that encloses a small garden designed by landscape architect Pamela Burton using mostly native and drought-tolerant plants. The ground floor is configured as a “wet room” that can handle sand, dripping wet suits and foot-traffic from the beach.

At the center of this otherwise open area is an enclosure that houses a guest bedroom. The outer walls are made from Richlite, a composite paper-based material used to make skateboard ramps. Upon close inspection, a pattern formed by pinholes of varying sizes appears across the smooth, natural-toned wall. At night, light shines through the holes to suggest a constellation. Lin designed the floor-to-ceiling installation using as her inspiration the actual arrangement of stars seen in the night sky on Aug. 26, 1920 – the date when the 19th Amendment was passed giving women the right to vote. “I like using time in my work,” she explained.

The constellation wall is a permanent work of art. When asked whether she gets the chills when remembering she has just moved into a Maya Lin-designed home, Nichols said, “Yes,” and added: “I think that will happen for quite a while.”

“Life and Style on Venice’s Walk Streets and Canals” is a self-guided tour featuring five homes, including the Maya Lin one shown here. The tour benefits Venice Family Clinic, the largest free clinic in the country, caring for more than 24,000 low-income and uninsured patients annually. It runs Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets are $100. Ticket sales take place on Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Westminster School, 1010 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice (free parking and shuttle service available). For tickets in advance or for information: (310) 392-9255 or www.veniceartwalk.info.

-- Debra Prinzing

CORRECTED: An earlier version of this post said the Nichols house was Lin's first residential design west of the Mississippi. It actually is her first from-the-ground-up home project on the West Coast. Lin designed a new home in Colorado and worked on a pre-existing structure in Santa Monica Canyon.

(Photos: Top photo shows the front of the Venice home designed by artist and Vietnam Veterans Memorial creator Maya Lin. The house is her first on the West Coast. The bottom photo shows the back of the house. In the center, Lin and Christine Nichols, owner of the home, stand in the breezeway of the house. Photos by Anne Cusack /Los Angeles Times)