Dwell Home Venice: Part 1

Dwell Home Venice: Part 1

By Michael Sylvester
In this series, Sebastian Mariscal designs a home in Venice, California, that brings the outside in. We track the project from start to finish with future resident Michael Sylvester. Part 1, August 2010: The Site and the Neighborhood.

Where to start with designing a new home? Our first step was to select a designer; someone who will be tasked with balancing the key inputs of the physical site, the neighborhood, the climate, the client's needs and the budget.

After extensive research I selected Sebastian Mariscal of Sebastian Mariscal Studio to design our home. Sebastian's work has been featured in Dwell several times and will be familiar to many readers. I toured Sebastian's Wabi House in Carlsbad near San Diego when it was under construction and experiencing this space convinced us that Sebastian should design our home. What I like about Sebastian's work is the combination of clean modernist lines with warm sensual materials, modest scale and also an element of delightful discovery in both plan and elevation. Sebastian’s designs reveal a succession of beautiful spaces as you explore them.

Sebastian recently came out to visit our site in Venice, CA. We discussed the project and what our wish list of spaces and uses would be. In addition to our programmatic needs, we discussed with Sebastian the feelings we wanted the spaces to convey. Important to us was the idea of opening up the house to the outdoors so we can take advantage of the great weather in Southern California. For good reason the expression "Indoor/Outdoor" living has become something of a cliché when it comes to light-filled modernist architecture in Southern California. We have a great climate and we want to make the most of it.

Here's a Becker & Miyamoto survey showing an array of data about the site. The lot is 45-feet-wide by 129-feet-deep. In the survey shown, the street front is on the right and the rear alley access is on the left. A small existing cottage is marked on the left of the survey, towards the rear of the lot. The site runs roughly east-west from right to left in the survey above.

Prior to Sebastian's visit I had the site surveyed by Becker & Miyamoto surveyors.Their use of laser and computer equipment to capture precise site details is quite amazing. The survey includes abundant information about the site including spot heights at various locations, different surface textures, the shape and dimensions of trees, dimensions of the existing building and surrounding structures including the sidewalk, curb, street surface and so forth. I sent the survey PDF files to Sebastian along with some photographs so he could prepare for his first site visit.

As part of his design process Sebastian photographed and sketched the site extensively including views within and beyond the property. The site is long and skinny, roughly 45 feet wide by 129 feet deep which equals approximately 5,800 square feet. Some key characteristics include rear alley access in addition to the street frontage, a perfectly flat site and the presence of two mature trees; a large pine tree and an oak. Both trees are in the buildable area of the land and not in the setback areas where we are not allowed to build, which means they are located on the most economically valuable parts of the property.

The street view of the property shows the dominance of trees at the front of the lot. The verge between the sidewalk and the curb features two large palm trees. Inside the property, a large pine tree is on the right and an oak tree on the left, in addition to some smaller fruit trees. The neighboring dwelling on the left, Walnut House by Modal Design, was featured in a 2010 Dwell on Design home tour.

Here's a view looking east through the front yard toward the street. The trees include a large pine on the left and an oak and juniper on the right.

The existing single bedroom 800-square-foot cottage has structural and plumbing problems and was marketed as a tear down when purchased in 2007. It’s cute, especially after we changed the exterior color from pink to gray, but after 85 years it is at the end of its life and will be deconstructed and recycled as part of this project.

The back of the property as seen from the rear alley. The pink colored structure is an existing single car garage which will be deconstructed at the same time as the cottage.

Another element of the site is the presence of a humble eight-hundred-square-foot, single-bedroom 1920’s cottage. This little house has foundation problems, cracking walls and plumbing that is overdue for replacement. The house was marketed as a tear-down when purchased in 2007 and we will be deconstructing it to make way for the new home Sebastian will design for us. More on that in a future post.

As part of Sebastian's site visit we walked the neighborhood to get a sense of the street and the surrounding area. This part of Venice is east of Lincoln Blvd. and has an eclectic mix of homes ranging from newly built modern to Victorian to Craftsman to humble workers cottages dating back almost 100 years.

The view northeast to the homes across the street from Dwell Home Venice. The neighborhood is an eclectic architectural mix of Craftsman, Victorian, Spanish Colonial Revival, Modern, and more.

Looking south down our street in Fall.

Venice has a long history of innovation in architectural design and features residential work by a large number of significant architects including Frank Gehry, Morphosis, Coop Himmelb(l)au, and Steven Ehrlich. Dwell has covered work in Venice by Lorcan O’Herlihy, Bestor Architecture, David Hertz and Pugh + Scarpa among others.

For most of its history the interesting residential architecture in Venice could be found west of Lincoln Blvd. In recent years, a pocket of Venice east of Lincoln Blvd, near our property, has seen a spate of new design. Within a few blocks are homes by well-regarded architecture firms such as Marmol Radziner, Resolution: 4 Architecture, Pugh + Scarpa, Minarc, Piece Homes, Modal Design and more. We walked the neighborhood with Sebastian, looking at houses and talking about the history of design in Venice and how we appreciate the culture of experimentation.

Our neighborhood includes numerous examples of recent modern architecture. The house shown above was designed by Robert Thibodeau of DU Architects, a local firm that has designed a range of homes in Venice and neighboring Santa Monica.

In the next post we will look at the design brief we gave Sebastian and his response.


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