A Midcentury Home Enjoys Views from Every Angle
Marjorie Rice, who worked for NBC News in London before moving to Los Angeles, tackled house hunting with a professional’s intensity. "I was looking at about 40 places a week," she says. Nothing fit the bill until she and her husband, Chris Rice, an agent at William Morris Endeavor (WME), came across a 1,600-square-foot post-and-beam high in the Hollywood Hills—exactly where they wanted to live.
"We saw it on a Sunday morning in February," Marjorie says, "and just knew."
"Bulging eyeballs," says Chris, whose job with WME brought the couple to L.A. three years ago. While a passel of agents and potential buyers milled around the inside of the 1960s home, designed by Case Study legends Buff, Straub and Hensman, the Rices climbed a ladder to the flat, puddle-covered roof and sat in the scrappy pair of lawn chairs they found there. The view reminded them of Strawberry Hill, the hotel in Jamaica where they first met as teenagers and where, after reconnecting in London years later, they married. "You’re in the hills and looking out over other hills dotted with all different kinds of houses," Chris says. "The one downside of our property is that there’s not much of a yard, but as we sat on the roof we had this sort of naive idea: It would be really easy to deck the roof and turn it, basically, into a garden."
"Easy" may have been a miscalculation, but Venice, California–based architect Don Dimster, having created an innovative rooftop for his own house a few years ago (see Dwell, June 2014), was up to the challenge. He and general contractor Franklin Pineda collaborated with the Rices to tailor their new home to fit their lifestyle. The remodel included a larger kitchen, a fourth bedroom, and an upstairs bath, as well as the new roof deck.
"We took it down to the studs," says Dimster, "but it’s a very pure reimagination of the house."
Both Rices are dedicated foodies and Chris is an avid cook (sous vide machine, slow cooker, multiple wine fridges), so a contemporary kitchen with plenty of storage was paramount. By co-opting a front deck as interior space, Dimster was able to relocate the kitchen adjacent to the living room—making one large fluid space, ideal for entertaining. With white Ikea cabinetry, skylights, and glass windows that look onto the potted bamboo of a modernist sliver of a winter garden, the serene addition serves its practical function and also makes the living room feel exponentially larger. Marjorie trekked to more than 20 stone yards before settling on the river-washed quartzite for the countertops.
Dimster further customized the living-dining experience by recessing electric shades in the railing of a balcony that, accessed by a triple series of new sliding-glass doors, runs along the side of the house with the hill view. With the flick of a switch, the Rices can ration the amount of light they get during the day, and the amount of privacy they want at night.
The original L-shaped kitchen and pantry were reconfigured as an upstairs guest bedroom-and-bath combo that can be closed off from the living area with a sliding door. "When babies come," says Chris, "we can use it for a playroom and hide the mess."
The real magic of the renovation may be the roof deck, which added 1,217 square feet of living space; Dimster’s dramatic glass-cased stairway is the drumroll that precedes it. After a switchback landing made of double-layer tempered glass, the oak treads rise to the ipe wood deck, unrecognizable from its former water-logged incarnation. Now a grown-ups’ playground, the roof hosts a bar with an integrated grill and sink, a fire pit, and a dining table, all of which Dimster designed incorporating the quartzite from the kitchen counters and the ipe from the deck. He also designed the teak seating. For days when the Southern California sun is brutal, shade sails can easily be moved and manipulated—and if that doesn’t cool things down sufficiently, a quick dousing under the shower in the corner will do the job.
The Rices weren’t overly familiar with midcentury modern design before buying their home, but didn’t need a tutorial to appreciate its charms, especially the embrace of their site’s surroundings, as enhanced by Dimster. "We got the outdoor-indoor living that was really important to us," says Marjorie. "At night the doors are open and you can hear the rustling of the bamboo and the coyotes. In the evenings it’s very sophisticated."