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.
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.
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.
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.
In the next post we will look at the design brief we gave Sebastian and his response.
Michael Sylvester is a writer who lives in both Los Angeles and an aisle seat, preferably in the exit row. On his pilgrimage to Dan Rockhill's Studio 804 in Lawrence, Kansas, to see its fabled prefab projects, he was feeling a bit self conscious being a Left Coast vegetarian in steak country. "In addition to their cool prefabs, there was a great vegan restaurant downtown. Who doesn't enjoy mixing good architecture with good food?" he says.