An Architect’s Venice Home Draws Inspiration From Around the World

Architect Steven Ehrlich reflects on his experiences in Africa and Japan to build a sustainable, ever-changing home in Los Angeles.
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Dwell Escapes is supported by Genesis. We selected this escape because the drama of the open-plan interior picks up on the progressive, audacious aspects of the Genesis GV80—and the two-story garage doubles as a gallery for showcasing art.

A little over a mile from the Pacific Ocean in Venice, California, sits a boxy house on a 5,700-square-foot lot. At first glance, it’s a contemporary two-story home with lots of windows and raw materials like metal and concrete. But take a closer look at the fine details, and you’ll notice something intrinsically primordial about the space that architect Steven Ehrlich of EYRC Architects designed for himself and his wife, author Nancy Griffin.

Nicknamed 700 Palms, Steven’s home is like a love letter to his past experiences around the world. The dwelling’s design was influenced by his time as a practicing architect in Marrakech, Morocco, as an architecture instructor in Nigeria in the 1970s, and his involvement in a Tokyo project in the 1980s.

The home’s exterior colors were inspired by the Marrakech souks Steven experienced as a practicing architect in Morocco in the 1970s. A Genesis GV80 sits outside the 700 Palms residence.

"All of those experiences led me to learn about aspects of culture and multicultural input—and that’s what makes this house unique," says Steven.

The home’s guiding design principle is called multicultural modernism. Coined by Steven and Nancy 20 years ago, it’s a practice of utilizing architectural influences and traditions from around the world, and adapting them into a more modern design style.

The home’s earthy color scheme complements the exterior landscape, which is ever-visible through grand windows.

"I loved living in courtyard houses in Africa, which were very sustainable because we didn’t pump the rooms up with air conditioning," explains Steven. "We actually opened up doors and had thick walls, cross ventilation, and many, many fundamental passive solar strategies."

The family courtyard is a space with luscious greenery and cozy seating where the owners can connect with their three grown children and grandson. Beyond lies the art-filled garage, where a Genesis GV80 is parked.

Drawing inspiration from these African homes, Steven designed 700 Palms with three courtyards. One courtyard houses the pool, whereas the family courtyard has bucket seating and a barbecue. The tree courtyard is home to an 80-year-old tree that Steven built the roof around.

The outdoor pool isn’t just a place to take a dip; it also produces an evaporative cooling effect for the air-conditioning-less home.

The courtyards—combined with a concrete block wall with high thermal mass, and a chocolate-brown concrete floor with radiant heating—allow the house to function without air-conditioning. Huge shades on the home’s southwestern facade help to dissipate heat, and the small pool provides evaporative cooling, keeping the interior and exterior environments comfortable throughout the year.

Steven describes his Havana Brown cats as "architectural accessories" that accent the playful elements of the home’s design.

Inside, the home has lofty ceilings and open spaces. Large glass windows and doors can be discreetly tucked away, allowing for movement and blurring the barriers between inside and out. Japanese influences abound in the Tansu stairs, the dining area—a reinterpretation of a sunken pit—and the dining room table, which is a piece of floating ash with unsealed benches designed by Steven himself.

"From architecture to cars, the essence of the design is fundamental," says Steven. "And I’ve always appreciated simple, clean lines." Here, Steven interacts with the Genesis GV80 in the home’s garage.

Visitors will also spy worldwide cultural influences in the impressive collection of art pieces the couple has amassed over the decades. Perhaps the most surprising place that the owners display their art collection is in the garage.

A beautiful collection of African gourds and bowls reflect on the shiny exterior of the Genesis GV80.

"I do park my car there pretty much every day, but it is also a gallery for my African baskets and gourds that I collected years ago," explains Steven. The duality of the design allows the garage to be used for displaying sculptures and colorful artwork, as well as for entertaining during pre-pandemic events.

The concrete block wall is composed of a special blend made just for this house. 

This idea of "duality" also presents itself in other aspects of the home’s design. It’s most notable in how the space has details that relate to the past and present—and how these elements seem to work cooperatively.

The open panels of the staircase and the glass bridge create the illusion of walking on air.

Take the bridge that is made entirely of glass and suspended on thin cables. Steven connected the glass bridge with a wall that "almost looks like [it] could’ve been there for 100 years," bringing two seemingly opposing design elements together to form an appeasing architectural marvel.

Clean lines are ever present in this modern home—as seen in the glass bridge, dining table, concrete block wall, and abstract art pieces.

"The counterpoint between the technical (or the futuristic) and the primitive (or the primal)—that duality is an interesting dialogue as well," Steven says.

With a design that moves between the past and the present, and from culture to culture, Steven has successfully created an urban oasis he describes as "an organic organism."

Steven made sure to include a pool on the 5,700-square-foot lot for his grandson and wife, who love to swim.

"The house is my transformer that I get to play with every day," says Steven. "I can open it, close it, move the shades up and down—and I’m tuning it up for the time of year, and the type of weather conditions. But it’s also a living, breathing organism that I get to be a part of, which is just fun."

The comfortable nooks at 700 Palms have doubled as remote workspaces during the pandemic.

His wife agrees. "The house was really designed to be flexible, so we use it differently today than we might have 20 years ago. For instance, adapting to pandemic life, we’ve been able to take certain spaces and use them for different purposes. I use the guest house now when I need to have quiet meeting time," says Nancy.

Steven and Nancy love how their home continues to change and serve them in new ways each passing year.

With natural ventilation, flexible spaces for working remotely, a design that blurs the line between shelter and nature, and elements that transport you to places around the world, 700 Palms provides Steven and Nancy with everything we might hope for in a home—now and for the future.

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Steven Ehrlich, EYRC Architects / @eyrcarchitects

Builder/General Contractor: Shramek Building Co.

This content was created by Dwell Creative Studio, the brand marketing arm of Dwell.


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