Los Angeles residences are as varied and unique as the very people who occupy them. Last week we toured an explosion of colour, kitsch, and Southern tinged tradition in Melrose, and this week we do a complete 180 degree turnaround by visiting a monastery of minimalist modernism which operates as both home and gallery in Marina del Rey, the Salon Oblique
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Gallery owner Maria Jenson and her artist husband Kevan Jenson's home is actually referred to as the “The M House” (referring to all the sheet metal that armours the exterior of the home), as designed by Xten Architecture. What was most striking about the home was the flow of interior and exterior spaces that bled into one another, a modern reflection of LA's strong architectural history of courtyard living. The M House reads as a structural rhythm of balconies, courtyards and rooftop landings where light and shadow play to dramatic effect, and it has just enough playful or inviting details, like a spy porthole, top floor window gallery and a lush front garden, to keep the M House from simply being an austere modernist dwelling. It also helped that dramatic pieces of artwork were strewn throughout the house (my particular favourite was a dissected plastic broomstick, its bristles carefully glued together to create a large, green organic sculpture).
Owner Maria Jenson shares: "My husband and I are both creative people. I am a writer, so I need little space. He is a painter, makes large works on canvas, so he needs a larger space to work in. We both are fans of all types of architecture but our love is modern architecture because of its simplicity. This would later become important as I evolved from writer to writer/gallerist.
Before living in our present house we lived in a loft that was approximately 1800 sq. feet. However we found it quite unlivable. There were huge areas of dead space and the place felt uninviting. The high ceilings were a facade. It turned out that it would have been a great space for a photographer or a graphic designer as there was little functioning wall space. Also it was open-planned, so when one of us wanted peace and quiet the other wanted to listen to the Rolling Stones at a high volume, conflicts were many.
The house we purchased wasn't that appealing, just a simple 900 sq feet bungalow with no homey touches. But it was in a nice neighborhood with a decent sized lot. Immediately after moving in, we found ourselves missing the loft, its high ceilings and the sense of openess. But we purchased with constructing in mind. The 900 sq foot house taught us many things; how we use space and what our needs are. We stumbled upon a book, How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built by Stewart Brand. The gist is how structures contain the history, the vibes, the lives and the care of the people who had lived in them and how all that energy accumulates in buildings. We decided for this reason to not scrape the property but to preserve what was existing and to add to it.
We lived in the original house while the addition was being built. Not for the faint of heart, and in the end it really did not save us any money as we initially thought it would, but we got to witness nail by nail, beam by beam the construction of the house. This also allowed us to make many last minute design changes and also allowed us to still create the design. It literally became a work in progress. We moved about the framed up spaces, imagining how we would use the rooms. A lot of our choices to do things came out of our frustrations of living in cramped quarters for five years before building.
While on a trip to Spain, we toured the Dali houses, particularly fond of his home in Cadques. It felt roomy but the rooms were human-scaled, and wound around themselves like a nautilus. Our present house has many areas to be in that feel different from each other. Also because of the indoor/outdoor aspect, our house feels and photographs much larger than it is. It feels large but not impersonal. And at last one could have their peace and quiet while the other listens to the Rolling Stones. I have a little writing study far, far away from my noisy artist husband. Now we have a 16 month old son so that makes for a bit of a challenge in terms of childproofing but he loves the space and the variety in artwork. He has play zones everywhere.
We also designed the space with entertaining guests as a priority. I knew that I wanted to showcase art so we decidedly have one room that is free from furniture and personal effects. Here it feels like a mini gallery, but artwork is on display all over the house and we have video work on display on a large screen in the courtyard. I have invitation only art events every 8 to 10 weeks. I feel that the reason why everyone raves about the space is because it was designed with their enjoyment in mind. We also got very lucky with our architects. They suggested the metal exterior and we would not have the house we have without that very key design element. In fact our house is known as "The M House" M for metal. We were one of their first clients. They are phenomenal."
Favorite element: sliding glass doors.
Biggest Challenge: economics.
What Friends say: for a modern house it feels welcoming and comfortable.
Proudest DIY: for my husband - installing the radiant heat system. for me, choosing materials and designing interior space, finishing the wood doors
Biggest Indulgence: a large bathroom with separate sinks and a separate cabinet [ed: not shown, but I can attest it was quite spacious]
Best Advice: make sure your marriage is solid before constructing!
Resources/Inspiration: touring Dali's houses in Spain. One of which became the Dali Museum after his death. Each one of these places influenced how we designed and live in our home. The art salons I run also came out of this experience. Dali's houses had a tongue-in-cheek quality, places that were very well designed but those living in the house or visiting weren't oppressed by the designed or the items inside. It was all very user friendly, very relaxed and very inviting.