Like so many L.A. stories, the tale of the Courtyard House begins with a lucky break. One day in 2001, Thomas Robertson got a call from a friend he hadn’t seen in ages. The friend told him that his elderly aunt needed companionship in her twilight years, and that she owned an empty lot in a posh West Los Angeles neighborhood. Would Tom like to design a home they could live in together? “I thought he was joking,” Robertson recalls. And just like that, he had his first house commission.
The thick stucco walls and tiled roof repels heat, and the cleverly positioned casement windows (even in closets) suck Pacific sea breezes far inland.
The two sides of the house look across the courtyard at each other, and are bridged by the dining room, which looks out onto the street below like the wheelhouse of a ship. “Everyone ends up in the kitchen anyway, so why not put the kitchen in the courtyard?” says Robertson. The kitchen features a NanaWall system that opens directly to the outdoors. The only two enclosed rooms in the house are the bedrooms.
A curtain made of cut sheet steel by Chicago sculptor Mary Brogger hangs in the living room. The knotty-pine bookshelves were designed by Robertson and Ripple Design. The stacked plywood boxes and powder-coated steel spacers allow light to pass through the shelves. On the left is a fireplace faced in the same hand-troweled concrete as the façade; owner Jan Horn likens it to a miniature house. “I love that little building,” he says.
The knotty-pine breakfast nook, which is similar to what was a signature feature of 1920s and ’30s Spanish-style houses—though the originals were decorated in a Moorish theme.
Robertson designed the orange powder-coated-steel shelves and storage units that line the knotty-pine walls.