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Intersecting walls and floating roof planes create a sculptural composition that reinforces the gallery-style interior of this new house

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Every site seems to have a riddle that needs to be solved, says the architect of the house featured on these pages. In this instance, the challenge was to tame a sloping corner site and create a modern, gallery-style home that flowed seamlessly between the inside and out.

Architect Steven Ehrlich says the solution was to position the driveway and garage off the side street, which was several feet lower than the main street.

"This provided several advantages," he says. "It enabled the garaging andbasement support services to be tucked out of sight, yet there is still plenty of natural light in these areas. Having the support services in the basement also freed up the living spaces so we could create an open, spacious floorplan. This arrangement also enhances the front entrance – when you approach the house from the street, you are not confronted by a garage door."

A series of landscaped platforms were created to build up the garden. Ehrlich says this provides a very fluid, casual way of arriving at the house. At the same time, the slightly elevated position of the main living area ensures there is plenty of privacy. The orientation of the house – towards the outdoor living areas and gardens, and away from the street – also provides privacy and serenity.

Ehrlich says owners Chuck and Kharlene Boxenbaum expressed a desire for a very modern house that could also function as a gallery to display large art works – Kharlene Boxenbaum is a professional artist.

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"They wanted to consolidate the living and studio spaces under one roof. To this end, all the living areas and the master bedroom suite are on the main living level, while the studio and ancillary rooms are positioned on the second floor."

The house itself is a sculptural composition of solid cubic masses, intersecting walls and floating roof planes that reinforce the direct, open nature of the floorplan.

"Elements of the vertical stucco masses also enter into the house and form sculptural backdrops for the fireplaces," says Ehrlich. "Subtle color changes in the stucco celebrate the different roles of these structures – the colors vary between pure white, off-white sandstone, and charcoal. There are also bolts of terra cotta."

Ehrlich describes the spacious, light-filled entrance as the heart of the house.

"The ten-foot wide foyer and circulation spine function as an art gallery for revolving displays of the owner's work."

Polished limestone floors and a dramatic terra cotta wall define this spine, which leads to the informal living areas at the other end of the house.

The formal living area, a step down from the foyer, is highlighted by an ebonized oak floor. The dark color and lower level enhance its intimate ambiance. This room features one of two thick stucco walls inside the house, which are pigmented in dark charcoal. These forms are strong sculptural elements that conceal fireplace ducting and television cabling.

The formal dining room is also set down a step from the main circulation spine, and has a similar ebonized oak floor and built-in display cabinets.

Both these spaces feature terra cotta-colored furnishings, and walls designed to accommodate large art works.

"Throughout the house, the design maximizes large wall expanses bathed in ambient light, which is an ideal environment for showcasing art," says Ehrlich. "Cantilevered metal planes with steel fascias extend beyond the windows to provide protection from direct sun."

The central steel staircase is another bold sculptural element – its form silhouetted against a two-story-high window.

"The stairway helps animate the space," says Ehrlich. "It is also bathed in light and overlooks a very serene Japanese-inspired garden."

The informal living space at the rear of the house provides a further connection to the outdoors. Sliding glass doors open up the entire corner of the house.

This spacious family living area highlights another of the owners' passions – modernist furniture. The seating includes classic vintage pieces, which fit with the contemporary setting. Built-in furniture incorporates a cantilevered Eurostone hearth that doubles as a low shelf.

Ebonized wenge wood features in the kitchen where dark cabinets contrast stainless steel appliances and CaesarStone countertops.

Ehrlich says the kitchen incorporates a walk-in pantry. There is also support space between the kitchen and the formal dining room. This concealed area accommodates the laundry room and toilet, a butler's pantry, a wine storage area, and an elevator linking the three floors.

First published date: 15 December 2006

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Credit List

Architect and interior designer Steven Ehrlich, project architect Takashi Yanai, James Schmidt, George Elian and Tom Hanley, Steven Ehrlich Architects (Culver City, CA)
Structural engineer Parker Resnick
Mechanical and electrical engineer Mel Bilow & Associates
Lighting design Integrated Lighting Design
Builder Horizon General Contractors
Landscape designer Nancy Powers Landscape Design
Kitchen designer Euroconcepts Kitchens
Siding Exterior cement plaster
Doors and windows Fleetwood
Flooring Solnhofen German limestone
Lighting Artemide
Blinds Mechoshade
Furniture Eames, Platner, Gehry, Boeri, Mies van der Rohe, Hans Wegner; dining table by Steven Erlich Architects
Kitchen cabinets Arclinea
Countertops CaesarStone quartz composite
Sink Franke
Faucets Dornbracht
Ovens and cooktop Wolf
Ventilation Artusi