One of the things we like most about the Ellwood Courtyard Apartments is that they are located in an urban context yet feel extremely private. Making an urban site work for private space while maintaining openness requires some sly architecture moves.
Our apartment has solid brick walls on the north and south, facing the side yards, as well as between the units. There are open faces on the west and east, facing the front and back of the property. These open onto private courtyards in each unit, which are enclosed from the street and back lot line by an eight-foot-tall wall.
The courtyard garden effectively and simply gives the downstairs spaces full transparency between indoors and out while maintaining complete privacy. Luckily, our block is still mostly made up of single-story craftsman houses—even though in almost every direction around us new multistory structures are going up. Above the courtyard walls we see only trees and sky.
Ellwood’s design for the second floor, where the bedrooms are, took advantage of the openness allowed by the steel structure and had large wall-to-wall sliding glass windows. The truss above the sliding doors was originally infilled with solid panels. The double unit we are renovating has glass infill panels in the truss space, another change made during the previous renovation. While we love glass, the formerly solid truss space—a smart Ellwood move—allowed even the upstairs space to feel private while having extensive views and light.
Since our daughter Oleana’s bedroom would face the street, we felt the original design of the opaque wall at the truss needed to be restored.
Our approach to this renovation in general is light touch. Therefore we needed to come up with a solution that could be done without having to undertake any major alterations.
Another important aspect of our approach is to treat some of the solutions to the problems as fun projects and mini design experiments. We wanted to make this project fun for everyone to work on. One of the things I have learned from Oleana is that kids like to work on projects.
Last year we participated in an exhibition called Broodwork, "a multi-year, multi-faceted project implementing work that furthers the fundamental discussion of the relationship between creative practice and family life" that gave us an opportunity to make something that would engage kids. For our contribution we decided that the very making of our piece could be done by kids.
Last year we also had an opportunity to live three blocks from the beach in Santa Monica, and we had sand on the brain (and in our shoes, socks and sheets!). I have very fond memories of creating landscapes using colored sand from when I was kid at the local rotary fair. For the Broodwork installation we created a cube where the four sides were made from clear polycarbonate panels with open cells at the top. Using bags of sand collected from the beach as well as colored sand, we unleashed a massive kids project. We discovered at the openings that kids can go for hours if you give them a couple of funnels and buckets of sand to pour.
We still had the panels that made up the cube, and we decided to recycle the project to make opaque panels for the second floor truss space facing the street. Last week we undertook Sand Box part II. We dumped out the sand from the multicolored panels, making our mix of primary colors into a selection of secondary ones.
To add contrast to the new muted rainbow mix we picked up 60 pounds of crushed white marble sand from Bourget Brothers for $10. With six thinner panels of polycarbonate we set out to fill over 800 cells.
We filled up the first cells with Oleana. The next couple hundred Alan and I completed. The final couple hundred we filled up with the help of our office during an extended lunch break. There is something very satisfying about seeing sand pour down through that funnel and fill up those cells.
We also repurposed the sand for Oleana’s 4th birthday last weekend. Birthday parties for kids can be terrifying, so we crafted a party that had a purpose, making sand sculptures out of the leftover rainbow sand mixture and a small batch of dark blue sand. Nine friends came over and they had a great time making sand sculptures in old jars.
In the end our sand panel design for our apartment is a gradient of muted colored sand, somewhat resembling a faded blue jean. The panel reads almost as a shadow from the outside and as a landscape from the inside, mirroring the light effects that change throughout the day.