In this new, exclusive series for Dwell.com, Linda Taalman of Taalman Koch Architecture will track the hands-on renovation of her and her partner's live-work space in Hollywood, California.
We have our weekend house in the desert, the off-grid itHouse (featured in the November 2008 issue of Dwell, online here), but we work in the city. Our office, Taalman Koch Architecture, is based in Los Angeles and I teach at Woodbury University just north of Hollywood. Having tested several models of living and working in the city, and having lived in many neighborhoods since our move to LA eight years ago, this spring we started looking for an optimized work space and pied-à-terre that could serve as a centralized city base. Both our apartment lease and our office lease were up and we were worn out by the daily commute between the two. Then a double unit became available for rent in the Craig Ellwood-designed Courtyard Apartments.
We first visited the Courtyard Apartments several years earlier— our friend Patricia lived in one of the units and we fell in love with its simple efficiency, and its ability to make living in central Hollywood feel like living the ideal indoor-outdoor Southern California lifestyle. Now, seeing the unit available for rent, we saw the building as a model for living in Los Angeles as it should have been: a simple 3,200-square-foot, two-story, four-unit block, each 800-square-foot unit with its own private courtyard.
According to Esther McCoy, “The construction of the Courtyard Apartments in 1953 was a turning point... it was proof that [Ellwood] could simplify and at the same time enrich, that he could wring more out of a small budget and come closer to architecture..”
We had spent a good deal of time studying the work of Craig Ellwood when we were developing our prefab system, the itHouse. We saw our own ideals reflected in the courtyard apartment, open spaces, expansion through transparency and indoor/outdoor connections, and its smaller-is-better ethos.
Ellwood’s courtyard apartments are a perfect example of how small, beautiful spaces with gardens can be made without following the single family house model that still defines much of this city that is no longer viable.
Since the apartment that was available for rent had two units back-to-back (two separate units had been joined some years prior by a previous owner), we could imagine fitting our fluctuating office of four to six people in it—plus being able to live here during the week with our 4 year old daughter. Perhaps to most people in Los Angeles, up to nine people sharing one 1,600-square-foot space sounds crazy, but after spending ten years in New York I saw a lot of potential.
The space would be on a rotating schedule, used for working by day and living by night, with overlaps in the morning and evening. And this was no ordinary 1,600-square-foot space. Small spaces work, if they are efficiently designed to perform on multiple levels. And since the space used to be two apartments, it now had two bathrooms and a powder room converted from one of the efficiency kitchens.
To make the courtyard apartment work we knew we would have to adapt, and the space also needs some adapting. We decided that these adaptations should be minimal, economical and reinforce the original Ellwood design elements.
As we are still renters, we are giving ourselves a small budget for improvements and creative license to come up with innovative solutions to the problems we encounter, making use of the collaborators we use in our architectural projects.
Living in a small, modern apartment, with its open spaces and transparent walls, requires a fair amount of discipline and a generally minimalist lifestyle. With that in mind, we picked the few items that we thought we couldn’t live or work without and migrated once again.
With this move we are setting out to create the ideal live/work space, one more in touch with the paradise-climate of Los Angeles. We're hoping it will be a place to spend more time dreaming and designing, and less time driving.