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

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 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.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016