Peek Inside the Frank Gehry Rental of an Emerging L.A. Furniture Designer

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By Heather Corcoran / Published by Dwell
In Venice Beach, California, Dust to Dust designer Kristin Grant Fowler and her husband, William Fowler, make an early Frank Gehry residence all their own.
Peek Inside the Frank Gehry Rental of an Emerging L.A. Furniture Designer - Photo 1 of 11 - William Fowler and Kristin Grant Fowler of Dust to Dust Furniture outside their home in Frank Gehry's 1980 corrugated-iron Spiller House in Venice Beach, California. 

William Fowler and Kristin Grant Fowler of Dust to Dust Furniture outside their home in Frank Gehry's 1980 corrugated-iron Spiller House in Venice Beach, California. 

A good Craigslist find is the stuff of apartment-hunting legend. Just nabbing a place without crazy roommates is a small victory, but the home one L.A. couple found on the site makes most digital deals pale in comparison.   

Peek Inside the Frank Gehry Rental of an Emerging L.A. Furniture Designer - Photo 2 of 11 - When renting an apartment in Frank Gehry's Spiller House, Kristin Grant Fowler and William Fowler chose simple furnishing that relate back to the architect’s humble material palette. The tabletop is set on Burro Brand saw horses—the same ones Gehry uses in his office. The sofa was designed by Kristin's grandfather, Park Avenue interior designer Hector Grant; the mirror was also a gift from him. The cushions are by Josef Frank.

When renting an apartment in Frank Gehry's Spiller House, Kristin Grant Fowler and William Fowler chose simple furnishing that relate back to the architect’s humble material palette. The tabletop is set on Burro Brand saw horses—the same ones Gehry uses in his office. The sofa was designed by Kristin's grandfather, Park Avenue interior designer Hector Grant; the mirror was also a gift from him. The cushions are by Josef Frank.

It was 2014 when Kristin Grant Fowler, the designer behind the furniture line Dust to Dust, and her now-husband, William Fowler, creative director of the meditation app Headspace, responded to an ad for a two-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot rental in Venice Beach. 

As it turned out, the space they would soon call home boasted an impressive pedigree: The two-story rental is part of architect Frank Gehry's 1980 Spiller House, a corrugated-iron structure just steps from the beach. 

Peek Inside the Frank Gehry Rental of an Emerging L.A. Furniture Designer - Photo 3 of 11 - The house is made of simple off-the-shelf materials. The beams are standard two-by-fours and the floors on the first level are polished concrete. 

The house is made of simple off-the-shelf materials. The beams are standard two-by-fours and the floors on the first level are polished concrete. 

The couple was immediately smitten upon seeing the space. "I noticed the contrast of common materials with the sophistication of the design," Kristin says of her first impression of the apartment. "The house is literally made of materials that you could purchase from the hardware store in 1978, but the design is so beyond what a common DIY-er could create." 

That initial view was all it took. "I knew we had to rent the apartment," William says, "having seen it, not getting to live in it would be tragic."

Peek Inside the Frank Gehry Rental of an Emerging L.A. Furniture Designer - Photo 4 of 11 - In contrast to architect Frank Gehry's iconic metal concert halls and museums, the Spiller House is delightfully simple. Here, the space is dominated by right angles and crisp geometry, unlike the undulating forms that define his later work. However the architect was already experimenting with subtle moves like the off-center placement of the home's central skylight.

In contrast to architect Frank Gehry's iconic metal concert halls and museums, the Spiller House is delightfully simple. Here, the space is dominated by right angles and crisp geometry, unlike the undulating forms that define his later work. However the architect was already experimenting with subtle moves like the off-center placement of the home's central skylight.

"I knew we had to rent the apartment...having seen it, not getting to live in it would be tragic." —William Fowler, resident

Peek Inside the Frank Gehry Rental of an Emerging L.A. Furniture Designer - Photo 5 of 11 - "The light from the light well is so beautiful during the day," resident William Fowler says. "And even though the house is a block from the boardwalk (ground zero for Venice weirdness), it's peaceful."  Shielded from from the street by its corrugated-metal siding, the house opens up vertically thanks to the skylight. 

"The light from the light well is so beautiful during the day," resident William Fowler says. "And even though the house is a block from the boardwalk (ground zero for Venice weirdness), it's peaceful."  Shielded from from the street by its corrugated-metal siding, the house opens up vertically thanks to the skylight. 

The apartment is set beside four-story home of owner Jane Spiller, who was working at the Office of Charles and Ray Eames when she embarked on the project with Gehry. The structure recalls Gehry's own 1978 home, in nearby Santa Monica, a deconstructed pastiche of everyday materials that marked the young architect as one of the most innovative of his generation.

Peek Inside the Frank Gehry Rental of an Emerging L.A. Furniture Designer - Photo 6 of 11 - The second floor is home to a simple bedroom. 

The second floor is home to a simple bedroom. 

The Spiller House rental had been on the market several times in recent years, and Jane Spiller insisted on vetting any potential tenants. In Kristin and Fowler she found a creative young couple with a passion for design. 

Since graduating from the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building in 2010, Kristin has helmed furniture company Dust to Dust, where she creates custom wooden furniture with a focus on pure forms and honest materials.

Peek Inside the Frank Gehry Rental of an Emerging L.A. Furniture Designer - Photo 7 of 11 - Vintage Soft Pad chairs by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller (an eBay find) and matching new Eames desk and storage units, also from Herman Miller, furnish a workspace on the mezzanine level. "When we're both at home we speak to each other all the time," William says of the openness of the house. 

Vintage Soft Pad chairs by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller (an eBay find) and matching new Eames desk and storage units, also from Herman Miller, furnish a workspace on the mezzanine level. "When we're both at home we speak to each other all the time," William says of the openness of the house. 

"I'm a total formalist—I see circles and squares and opposing volumes," Kristin says. The same spirit is evident in the home, from the simple materials to the crisp, angles, and, geometric forms. 

"I naturally gravitate toward simple geometry...I suppose that's why I'm so in love with the Spiller House. From the outside it looks like a simple box, but inside Gehry made so many brave choices."

Peek Inside the Frank Gehry Rental of an Emerging L.A. Furniture Designer - Photo 8 of 11 - The Chair No. 2 by Dust to Dust is based on designer Kristin Grant Fowler's experience in boatbuilding. The chairs are available in oak, walnut, and ash with mortise-and-tenon joints; 500 feet of rope comprise the seat and back. A dark shou-sugi-ban version, not pictured, is also available.

The Chair No. 2 by Dust to Dust is based on designer Kristin Grant Fowler's experience in boatbuilding. The chairs are available in oak, walnut, and ash with mortise-and-tenon joints; 500 feet of rope comprise the seat and back. A dark shou-sugi-ban version, not pictured, is also available.

Peek Inside the Frank Gehry Rental of an Emerging L.A. Furniture Designer - Photo 9 of 11 - Kristin, who often creates custom projects for private clients, designed the Horizon coffee table as a birthday gift for William. Its glass and teak are meant to recall the materials in the house.

Kristin, who often creates custom projects for private clients, designed the Horizon coffee table as a birthday gift for William. Its glass and teak are meant to recall the materials in the house.

Along with a mix of off-the-shelf materials, there's another, more intangible element at play within the space: light. "It's as if it was another material Gehry considered," Kristin says, "immaterial but always creating an exchange with the space."

Peek Inside the Frank Gehry Rental of an Emerging L.A. Furniture Designer - Photo 10 of 11 - As an exercise, Kristin recreated Gerrit Rietveld's Steltman chair from 1963. "It's something that I always wanted to build," she says. "I used some offcuts from a boat I worked on to build this one."

As an exercise, Kristin recreated Gerrit Rietveld's Steltman chair from 1963. "It's something that I always wanted to build," she says. "I used some offcuts from a boat I worked on to build this one."

While the home's place in design history could be intimidating for some, Kristin and William have found how well the house complements their life within it—something they attribute to the architect's genius.

As Kristin puts it: "The Spiller House is very receptive to our personal style, which I feel is a strong part of why Frank Gehry is not just an architect, but an artist interested in how people live."

Peek Inside the Frank Gehry Rental of an Emerging L.A. Furniture Designer - Photo 11 of 11 - Designer Kristin Grant Fowler at the Dust to Dust studio, just blocks from her home in Frank Gehry's Spiller House.

Designer Kristin Grant Fowler at the Dust to Dust studio, just blocks from her home in Frank Gehry's Spiller House.

To learn more about Dust to Dust Furniture, follow Kristin on Dwell.com.


Cover photo by Mark Griffin Champion.

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