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May 27, 2014
Originally published in Modern for All
as
Sibling Revelry
Architect Don Dimster celebrates the concept of communal family space with a pair of homes in Venice, California, for himself and his brother.
steel and glass staircase in modern house
The dramatic staircase in architect Dom Dimster’s Southern California home is made from T- and L-profile steel, shelf board, glass panels, and plate steel. Electric shades on the outside of the house keep the sun from penetrating the glass wall of the staircase and overheating the interior.
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roof deck with Mangaris plank wood flooring and Kookaburra Shade Sail
With a fire pit, mobile shades, and drought-tolerant grasses recessed in the Mangaris plank expanse, the roof deck is a communal space in the duplex. The Kookaburra Shade Sail, made of a woven polymer material that prevents mold, can be moved around as needed.
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white facade of modern house in venice, california
The glass staircase figures prominently in the facade, but Don designed the windows to ensure privacy. Using computer models, he conducted visual studies to suss out sight lines from the street. “People can’t see in, but we still get light.”
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modern kitchen with blue cabinets, open shelving, bertazzoni range, and glass backsplash
Don preferred closed cabinets for his kitchen but Dennis didn’t want doors swinging out. So Don designed plywood sliders that park at specific positions and fit together like puzzle pieces in Dennis’s space. Contractor Franklin Pineda custom-built the cabinets using Baltic birch plywood from Anderson Plywood. See more ways to design with plywood.
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Originally appeared in How to Design with Blue
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modern kitchen with sliding wood wall and concrete floors
A nine-foot-tall door covered with quarter-inch white oak slides along a ceiling rail and can be moved with just a finger to close off Don and Lisa’s kitchen or bedroom. Made of wood and metal, and welded onsite, the door moves along 400-pound-capacity rollers by McMaster-Carr. A matching sliding door opposite hides a storage area. “Because of their size, the doors had to be made inside,” says Don, who did the job himself. mcmaster.com
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modern kitchen with wood table, concrete floors, and pendant light
Don designed and built the white-oak kitchen table, which is cantilevered so knees don’t bump the underpinnings.
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modern kitchen and dining area with cantilevered wood table

Half of the table can be manually raised to counter height, making an ideal serving, prep, or work station. “Don did all of the welding,” Lisa says, “and I’d hold the fire-spark cloth to protect the cabinets and wood bench.”

Don originally wanted to have wood floors throughout the interior but for cost reasons decided to use lightweight concrete instead. “In order to make it as resilient to cracks as possible, the concrete is extra thick—two-and-a-half inches—and has fiberglass and wire mesh reinforcing,” he says. “It was polished and machine-troweled as it was being finished, the same as the lower-level concrete slab, so we could get a similar look throughout.”

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master bathroom with skylight, white walls, soaking tub, and Cararra marble tile
The master bathroom has a small window and a large skylight above the shower—and shares a translucent glass expanse with the kitchen, where it becomes the backsplash. “Even though it’s a buried room,” Don says, “we have three sources of natural light. For the shower, we made a very high curb so you can stop up the drain and turn it into a big soaking tub. We used white, one-by-four-inch or one-by-six-inch Carrara marble tiles from Royal Stone and Tile. They come on a 12-by-12-inch sheet. I got the small tiles because you can use them to work the bottom plane into the shower.” royalstonela.com
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Dual House Floor Plan
The floor plan of Dimster Architecture's Dual House in Venice, California.
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steel and glass staircase in modern house
The dramatic staircase in architect Dom Dimster’s Southern California home is made from T- and L-profile steel, shelf board, glass panels, and plate steel. Electric shades on the outside of the house keep the sun from penetrating the glass wall of the staircase and overheating the interior.
Project 
Dual House
Architect 

Don Dimster and his filmmaker brother, Dennis, had lived together on and off for nearly a decade when, in 2004, they purchased a 40-by-120-foot lot in Venice, California, just a few blocks from the beach. Eight years and myriad hypothetical schemes later, the Dimsters moved into the duplex that Don, an architect, designed. By this time, Dennis was married to Noreen Perez, an assistant film director, and Don to Lisa Turner Dimster, the design director for the outdoor clothing maker Aether Apparel; what might have become a pair of high-design bachelor pads instead turned into two family homes with considerable flexibility.

white facade of modern house in venice, california
The glass staircase figures prominently in the facade, but Don designed the windows to ensure privacy. Using computer models, he conducted visual studies to suss out sight lines from the street. “People can’t see in, but we still get light.”

The building’s most striking feature, both inside and from the street, is a pair of glass-walled, suspended steel stairways that lead from each home’s living space to a shared 1,000-square-foot rooftop patio. The terrace provides ample communal space for the two couples, their dogs, and Dennis and Noreen’s new baby. And when each family opts for a bit of private time, the six-inch-thick cinder-block walls that define each of the three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath homes give them all the privacy they need. Don shares the story behind the Dimster duplex.

Don Dimster: The lot was empty when we bought it, but we found an undocumented basement with old Prohibition-era bottles and two steep staircases leading into a tiny room about four-and-a-half feet underground. Apparently, there were a lot of moonshine basements in Venice.

We considered every permutation for the building: three units, two units, a garden courtyard—but, in the end, we knew we wanted it to be a duplex, with my brother and me as the occupants. I wanted a building that could read as one but that had two distinct identities. 

modern kitchen with sliding wood wall and concrete floors
A nine-foot-tall door covered with quarter-inch white oak slides along a ceiling rail and can be moved with just a finger to close off Don and Lisa’s kitchen or bedroom. Made of wood and metal, and welded onsite, the door moves along 400-pound-capacity rollers by McMaster-Carr. A matching sliding door opposite hides a storage area. “Because of their size, the doors had to be made inside,” says Don, who did the job himself. mcmaster.com

Because we wanted a garage, there wasn’t much space left on the ground floor, so it was important to have a nice entry that brings you up to the living area. The stair is a special element. We studied different configurations—next to the facade, perpendicular to the facade—but it became obvious the stair should become the facade. It animates the building’s exterior and shows life inside the house. Because of its shape, the stair is quite a nice sculptural piece.

The idea of a collective main space was always important. It’s actually an old idea; Le Corbusier was a proponent of it in many of his social housing projects, and the theory was that the collective space would always be much more grand and significant than individual spaces. As the building foot-print grew, the collective outdoor space moved naturally up to the top floor.

The deck is an access point for the two units. The other night, I went over to watch basketball and it was so convenient. Lisa and I can go hang out, watch a movie on their side, or meet up with them in the middle. It’s a nice balance between togetherness and privacy.

roof deck with Mangaris plank wood flooring and Kookaburra Shade Sail
With a fire pit, mobile shades, and drought-tolerant grasses recessed in the Mangaris plank expanse, the roof deck is a communal space in the duplex. The Kookaburra Shade Sail, made of a woven polymer material that prevents mold, can be moved around as needed.

The second floor has 11-and-a-half-foot ceilings, is a simple L shape, and contains the kitchen, living, and dining areas. We didn’t want to waste duplicate space, so we built the dining room inside the kitchen.

My brother’s unit is a mirror of ours, so if you wanted to bust through and combine the whole shebang into one big building, the kitchen would be a logical place to connect. There are six inches between the two walls. You could turn one kitchen into a formal dining room and use it as the passage to the home’s other side. The project is really designed to be future-proof: One family could take over both units, two families could stay, or one could sell without affecting the other. 

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