LA House Tour: Debbie and Olivier's One Window House

LA House Tour: Debbie and Olivier's One Window House

Laure Joliet
May 16, 2008

Name: Debbie and Olivier
Location: Venice, CA
Size: 1500sq/ft
Years lived in: 2 years, own

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When Debbie and Olivier bought their Venice property 3 years ago, they could have torn down the existing house and filled the property with a new McMansion. Instead they chose to keep the existing home, convert it into a studio for their architecture firm and build a second house with as small a footprint as possible. The idea was to maximize the space they had for living by using every corner. The result is a great example of simple, small space living.

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In keeping the footprint small, but the space feeling large, the architects used glass walls to bring views of the garden into the home, added decks off each floor and kept walls to a minimum. The downstairs is one living space incorporating living room, dining room and kitchen. It feels much larger than it is, with a giant sliding door that reveals a small deck and a beautiful native garden (which also provides privacy) on view through the glass walls that surround the downstairs.

The third floor houses the master bedroom and bath. Most impressive is that rather than build a hotel suite-as-bedroom, they chose to keep it simple. The bedroom and bath are small, white and luxuriously simple with a great view of the surrounding neighborhood and rows of palm trees.

The most impressive aspect of the house is their real commitment to not overrunning their home with stuff. Everything is a thoughtful addition. Even with a toddler in the house, it would be easy to let all the accoutrements build up, but they make thoughtful decisions about what they buy and what they need. The house feels lived in and comfortable, but because they don't need to store boxes and boxes of belongings, they can use the space for living rather than storing. Nothing is oversized or indulgent, but it all feels very comfortable; there seems to be space everywhere.

AT Survey:

On building your own home with an eye towards small space sustainable living:
Space is a terrible thing to waste. We worked hard in our role as our own architects to create floor plans that wasted no corner. Building vertically, though unusual in Los Angeles, allowed us to preserve garden space and use upper level terraces to extend the small interior rooms. Planting a native garden and using large sliding doors creates natural cooling and ventilation throughout the house. Our approach to sustainability emphasizes the efficient use of space as a "natural resource" and the recycling of urban land (urban infill as opposed to new suburban development). If you do that, other things, like the countertop made of crushed trash and glue become less important.

What's the best part of building your own home? Control, control, control, and picking out your own faucets.
The worst? Blame, blame blameā€¦and picking out your own faucets.

My/Our style: Jeans and Tshirt

Inspiration: Right now, our son inspires us every day to rethink the way we interact with the material world. We have migrated from a strictly high design environment that I would describe as appealing to the intellect to one that emphasizes discovery and the senses. African fair-trade baskets from Ghana, organic cotton and wool blankets and clothing, have begun to slowly replace some of our more plastic fantastics. In a very general way as architects, we have always been inspired by and compared to contemporary Japanese and Dutch architects due to the clever use of limited spaces and clean, simple lines.

Favorite Element: The study. It is in the center of the house both vertically and horizontally. It's placement as a loft allows us to communicate with the living space and also keep an eye on our rambunctious toddler.

Most talked about Elements: Its materials: the sanded flake board (known in construction as oriented strand board or OSB), the orange welding curtain in the upstairs closet, the agricultural foil curtains, polished concrete floor and the miles of glass walls on the ground floor.

Biggest Embarrassment: The lack of a garden between the old and new house. It's just dirt and mulch. Then my husband planted some potatos in the middle of it.

Proudest DIY: I could say it was the Ikea shelves we installed ourselves in the study, but really, it was creating a safe zone for my cat's food (safe from previously mentioned rambunctious toddler), using a pressure-mounted baby gate between one column and the glass wall. In a gesture of mock post-modernity, I cut a little door into it with a pitched roof, for the cat's tail to pass more easily.

Best advice for a green home: Keep it small. There's something perverse about a salad from McDonalds and hybrid SUVs and so is there about a "green" McMansion.

Best advice for living in a small space with a small child: Safety gates and an easily movable (as in lunge and grab) ipod sound dock. Ours is from Altec Lansing and it replaced our chunky speakers and receiver. In a couple of years, we will slowly ease back into audiophilia with a proper server and wireless receiver and speakers. Another good strategy is to turn off the power strip to the t.v. and cd player during the day so that the little buttons don't light up!

Favorite stores: We drool at Cappelini in West Hollywood, but when it comes to being flaneurs we love the shops on Abbott Kinney in our neighborhood and Tortoise shop in particular--Japanese housewares and objets. For toys it's Acorn toy shop in Santa Monica. Online, we've purchased from Design Public (the Eco Tots table and stools), Y Lighting and one of my favorites for our son, Tiny Birds Organics. The dining table by Jean Prouve and orange chairs by Maarten Van Severen were purchased through Vitra.

What is next on your list of things you'd like to do at home? Complete the garden and throw the t.v. into the street.

What would you do differently, if anything, if you were to build the
house over again?
We would have installed radiant heat in the concrete slab and hooked it up to a solar panel/water heating system. Big mistake.

Anything else you want to tell us? Please consider architects and landscape architects when you want to build. It's the best way to save space and have a good set of plans. For landscaping, the input of a professional is invaluable when considering water conservation and local ecosystems.

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(Thanks, Debbie and Olivier!)

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Photos by Laure Joliet

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