written by:
June 6, 2013
On Sunday, June 23, we will welcome architect Michael Lehrer to the Demo Stage at Dwell on Design. Lehrer will take us inside a house and art studio he designed for the marble sculptor Charlie Kaplan—an epic commission and collaboration that stretched across 12 years. Since Kaplan will be traveling and won't be able to attend, we reached out to him ahead of the event to get his take on the challenges, rewards, and lessons drawn from the architectural collaboration.
lehrer modern house and studio

At Dwell on Design, architect Michael Lehrer will take us on a virtual tour of Canyon House, the house and studio he designed for the marble sculptor Charlie Kaplan.

lehrer modern house and studio

At Dwell on Design, architect Michael Lehrer will take us on a virtual tour of Canyon House, the house and studio he designed for the marble sculptor Charlie Kaplan.

What drew you to architect Michael Lehrer? Why did you feel he was the right person to build your house?

First and foremost, Michael is a really good guy.

About 15 years ago, I participated in a LACMA architecture tour with my wife, Joann. One of the houses on the tour was a formerly nondescript California bungalow. It was originally small, dark, and confining but the owners engaged Michael to create an addition, which was airy and full of light. It was an eye-opening moment as we had recently decided to expand our own then-nondescript home. Michael was present during the LACMA tour; we met him and hired him on the spot.

From that first example of Michael’s work, we fell in love with his approach. What is a piece of architecture, after all, but sculpture that you walk into or live in? I see sculpting as problem solving. I want to make a slab of marble smooth and curvilinear. Michael also has a problem-solving approach to architecture. Creatively, our work styles are similar.

I was constantly amazed during the design process. Our initial idea of expanding one room became two rooms and ultimately became tearing down the existing home and starting from scratch. I related to Michael’s ability to see the house as a sculpture—he would draw his idea on paper and then turn the idea into a 3D model.

As an artist, sculpting is intuitive, the creative process exists in the stone and the form emerges as I begin to work with the stone. I'm knowledgeable of what the sculpture will look like when it's finished. I sensed that Michael shared a similar intuitive approach to architecture.

What was your goal?

We had two shared goals. Joann’s goal, with her background in landscaping, was to bring the outside environment inside. My goal, likely through the artist’s eye, was to create great views, within the house and from inside the house to the outside.

Tell me about your collaboration with Lehrer. Did any challenges or surprises come up during the design process?

Michael’s process with us was to present his ideas, to defend, to explain, and then to move on, but never impose. This process was a big surprise because the collaboration was never adversarial. Michael was always willing to listen to our ideas and questions, and ready to explore another approach when necessary.

At times we did return to the original idea, but Michael allowed the process to happen, empowering us to reach a point of acceptance and understanding.

The first of many turning points was when our vision for the house met with the reality of executing the vision—such as expanding budgets, longer time frames, etc. Our collaboration with Michael spanned 12 years—seven in design and five in building. Michael's ongoing presence and involvement with the builder, Horizon Builders, was one of the key elements to success.

We all wanted this collaboration to succeed. As clients, we eliminated as many obstacles as possible. For instance, we were fortunate to be able to move into our beach house during the demolition and building process so the pressure to finish by a certain time was not an issue. As clients, we also played to our strengths: Joanne participated in the review of the design and I participated more in the review of the mechanics of the construction.

What's your favorite space in the finished house?

It is really difficult to answer this question. I love the family room, next to the kitchen, with the soaring ceilings. The foyer outside our bedroom is intimate, yet spacious. I am phenomenally in love with my studio. And how could I not love the living room with sliding glass doors on two walls that is the epitome of indoor-outdoor living?

All of the spaces in the house simply make you feel good. For me, it is like walking around and within a Richard Serra sculpture. You simply feel good in the space.

Now that you've been living there for almost three years, is there anything you wish you'd done differently, or anything you'd like to change?

There are three rooms in the home that are devoted to my work as a sculptor—the studio, the workshop, and a display room. For purely selfish reasons, if I were redesigning the house, the only change I would make would be to make the workshop and display room larger.

What did you learn from your design collaboration?

I learned that two artists would accomplish a shared goal in completely different ways.

This was the first time that I realized that I was collaborating with another artist, because it was the first time that I viewed myself as an artist in the collaboration.

Prior to my experience of designing our home with Michael, I considered myself a private artist, sculpting marble because it was a passion, and not looking for public recognition. During the design collaboration, Michael suggested that I create a sculpture to place in front of the house.

A goal in the design of the house was not to create a public display of my sculpture. Only after Michael suggested that I create a work specifically for the house did I begin to see how the house, as sculpture, could also display sculpture.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

20160229 dgd highhouse 1777 1024x683
Two toddlers, a pup, and their parents fit onto a 16.5-foot-wide plot in an inner suburb of Melbourne.
May 27, 2016
rec
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
May 27, 2016
capitol gains seattle multifamily living dining room wassily chair chaise le corbusier cb2
Two Seattle architects design and build a dynamic multifamily structure on a formerly vacant lot.
May 27, 2016
modern beach house thatch roof living dining bar cart
By eliminating walls and incorporating a series of interior gardens, architect José Roberto Paredes creates an eclectic and inspired El Salvador beach house.
May 27, 2016
7
A two-story Eichler in San Francisco gets a freshening up.
May 27, 2016
Bathyard renovation in Madrid, Spain
In Madrid, Spain, Husos Architects renovate a turn-of-the-20th-century apartment for a client with dual passions: her houseplants and a nice, long bath.
May 26, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
May 26, 2016
starting over sturgeon bay facade tongue and groove new growth cypress  0
After a devastating fire, architect David Salmela designs a house to replace a beloved lakeside retreat in Wisconsin.
May 26, 2016
Modern home with brick base and cedar rain screen on top level
An architect reimagines an outdated brick garage by designing a graceful new family home atop its foundation.
May 26, 2016
sardenya lr 7
A renovation brings light and order to a Spanish flat, maintaining its standout ceilings.
May 25, 2016
pow 5 25 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
May 25, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent thom fougere winnipeg canada cthom fougere studio thom fougere saddle chair 2
Designer Thom Fougere plays with scale and typology to create playful furniture.
May 25, 2016
prs my16 0067 v001 1
In the worlds of architecture and design, we’re always looking for the best ways of supporting sustainable building practices. This awareness doesn’t have to stop at our driveways but rather, it can extend to the cars we choose to take us to the places we go each day. With Toyota’s 2016 Prius, the daily task of getting from point A to point B can now be experienced with a new level of efficiency, safety, and style.
May 25, 2016
mountfordarchitects western australia
On a narrow site in Western Australia, Mountford Architects makes the most of a tight spot—with an eye to the future.
May 25, 2016
San Francisco living room with Wassily chairs
Materials and furniture transformed the layout of this San Francisco house, without the need for dramatic structural intervention.
May 24, 2016
shiver me timbers tallow wood kitchen
A pair of married architects put their exacting taste to work on their own family escape in the Australian bush.
May 24, 2016
in the balance small space massachusetts cantilevered cabin glass facade
When nature laid down a boulder of a design challenge in the Massachusetts mountains, an architect’s solution elevated the project to new heights.
May 24, 2016
Wooden Walkways
A home in Ontario, Canada, demonstrates how factory-built housing can be as site sensitive as traditional construction.
May 24, 2016
15 icff 5
From Corian furniture to immersive installations, here are some of our favorite designs we saw at the 2016 shows.
May 24, 2016
gpphoto44
A home and community celebrate natural remove in unison.
May 24, 2016
With our annual issue devoted to the outdoors on newsstands, we did a lap of Instagram for some extra inspiration.
May 23, 2016
forest for the trees english prefab mobile home facade chesnut cladding
On the edge of a historic park in an English shire, a prefabricated home sets a new design standard.
May 23, 2016
tread lightly australia
A family home on Australia’s Mornington Peninsula is built to blend in with its lakeside setting.
May 23, 2016
jardins party dining room hay chairs local wood floor
A pair of architects help a client carve out an oasis of calm amid São Paulo’s bustle.
May 23, 2016
hwm6zf 1
No matter where you're located or what time of the year it is, having a fireplace in your home is a treasure that’s continuously sought after. Besides the obvious benefits of keeping a fire going through the cold winter months, it can also be a cherished asset that provides an extra level of year-round comfort—not to mention how it can help define the layout of a space by acting as a sculptural element.
May 23, 2016
An office Crosby Studios designed for NGRS in Moscow
Crosby Studios just cares about the essentials.
May 22, 2016
cold sweat seattle floating sauna gocstudio
A cadre of designers let off steam after hours by building and sailing a seaworthy sauna.
May 22, 2016
in the swim off the grid campsite healdsburg california swimming pool solar heat lap pool ipe deck loll designs lounge chairs
An off-the-grid house that is little more than a decked campsite—albeit with a roof—includes a swimming pool for a family that loves to enjoy the elements.
May 21, 2016
A print by Kristina Krogh
From flat to physical, Kristina Krogh masters every dimension.
May 21, 2016
scifi
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
May 21, 2016