An Architect Couple Fuse California Cool and Japanese Simplicity in This Blacked Out Bungalow

An Architect Couple Fuse California Cool and Japanese Simplicity in This Blacked Out Bungalow

By Alia Akkam
A soothing landscaped garden acts as the centerpiece at this Los Angeles residence that shuns all unnecessary elements.

The journey to settle into and raise their family in just the right house has been a long one for Takashi Yanai and Patti Rhee, partners at Los Angeles-and San Francisco-based Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney (EYRC) Architects. They began their search over a decade ago, hoping to find somewhere both comfortable and conveniently located near their Culver City studio.

The Yanai-Rhee family gathers on the deck, an organic transition between the house and the garden. The exterior, now painted black, is reminiscent of the Japanese shou sugi ban technique.

The couple felt particularly drawn to nearby Mar Vista, a neighborhood that reminded Rhee of her native East Coast, "with lots of trees and bigger yards." There they bought a comfortable post-World War II bungalow in a Westside subdivision. "We are not on a street with a lot of houses facing each other. We are sandwiched in at the end of the block and I love the privacy," Rhee continues. 

From the dining table, "it feels like you're on the outdoor patio," says architect Takashi Yanai.

After 10 years of living there, however, the architects could no longer ignore the fact that something felt aesthetically amiss. Friends who visited, for example, were often confused when they saw how the 1,500-square-foot dwelling’s personality clearly didn’t mesh with the owners'. 

For Yanai, who presides over EYRC’s residential studio, "it got to the point that it was not a reflection of what’s important to me in my designs. It was so incongruent to our sensibilities." A contemplative renovation, one that demanded a modest budget, became essential. 

To complement the pocket-door wall, there are other expanses of glass that punctuate space while framing vignettes of the outdoors. 

Guiding the narrative of the remodel are two fundamentals that mattered most to the owners: a seemingly effortless blurring of the indoors and outdoors and "to keep things simple, which is not to say minimal," Yanai clarifies, noting how the home was meant to serve as a frame for the landscape, the art, and the furniture. 

Adjacent to the dining table, art books and sculptures get the spotlight.

Working from the outside in, Yanai and Rhee began the revamp process by collaborating with David Godshall of Terremoto, a landscape architectural design studio with offices in L.A. and San Francisco, on the garden. Conceived as a distinctly Californian retreat that is Japanese in spirit, it incorporates such plants as bamboo and feather grass. 

To amplify this deluge of greenery, the architects created a neutral backdrop for it by painting the exterior of the house black. French doors were also eradicated to make way for a commanding 18-foot-wide sliding glass door. When opened, the sliding glass door allows the living area to blend into an extended deck crafted from marine-grade plywood that also calls to mind the porch-like engawa that is common to Japanese architecture. "I’m an indoors person," says Rhee, "but I very much appreciate that we can look out on our own beautiful, graveled meditation garden." 

The Eames Lounge Chair and sunken garden make for a serene combination.

By accentuating the bones of the building and reorganizing and editing the layout with "interventions that were impactful and careful," explains Yanai, a similar graceful vibe now pervades the open-plan living and dining area. Base trim and crown molding were removed, for instance, as were a number of downlights "to make the surface as plain as possible." 

Black-and-white photography lends a nuanced touch to a partition wall re-clad in plywood.

A partition wall, newly re-clad in plywood and serving as a showcase for photography on one side, divides the living room and streamlined Bulthaup galley kitchen where Rhee likes to work from the midcentury Danish wood desk. 

Storage is minimal at the Yanai-Rhee residence, and that lack dovetails nicely with the couple’s pared back ethos. "If you have things that you love or need to keep, why hide them," says Yanai. "Our living room is defined by open shelves with books, objects, and games that are a display of what’s important to us as a family." 

Original red oak floors were stripped and finished with a matte sealer to maintain a raw, unfinished look.

What’s also special to them is artwork from the likes of Hiroshi Sugimoto, Daido Moriyama, and Johannes Girardoni. "We don’t just collect art for the sake of collecting," adds Yanai. "Most of it has personal significance, whether we know the artist or it was given to us by a client." 

Shelves, filled with books and objects, are a focal point of the living room.

The bulk of the construction took place over six months, and Yanai and Rhee’s kids, now ages 14 and 11, treated the disruption like a camping adventure, what with a temporary kitchen stationed in the garage and everything, including the television, crammed into just one bedroom for a stretch of time. 

"We wanted them to live through a project," says Yanai, and they continue to do so. Yanai and Rhee are organically making tweaks along the way, and there is still the master bedroom and bathrooms—and maybe even a Japanese-style hot tub—to tackle. 

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A picture window and wooden windowsill are among the considerate touches in the galley kitchen. 

From the outside, Rhee says the house is pretty nondescript. It may not hint at the purposeful design inside, "but that’s what makes it cool. It’s amazing what you can do with what you have." 


Related Reading:

A Boxy Los Angeles Bungalow Conceals a Secret Garden

The 1920s Character of This Los Angeles Bungalow Shines After a Recent Remodel


Project Credits:

Architect of Record and Interior Design: Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects/ Takashi Yanai/ @eyrcarchitects

Builder/General Contractor: Architectural Construction/Nate Wasik

Structural Consulting Engineer: David Lau

Landscape Design Company: Terremoto/David Godshall 

Cabinetry Design/Installation: Bulthaup/Michelle Chen and

Rowla Studios/Steve Carlson

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