As a studio working in LA we’ve learned a few things over the years while designing custom homes. Rule #1: Be a good neighbor. Rule #2: You can’t always build what you want. Rule #3: But… you can always build what you need.
Additional Credits: Bruce Damonte (photography)
View from Bird Streets
Located on Nightingale Drive, one of the famed “Bird Streets” twisting through the slopes above West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip , the design of the Oberfeld Residence was dictated by two inherently unchangeable factors: the steeply sloped building site, and a city council-mandated 18-foot height limit put in place to protect the panoramic unobstructed views of the LA basin (Rule #1). Our client—Los Angeles super-developer Mauricio Oberfeld, who commissioned us to design his personal residence—wanted a two-story home, an impractical architectural nightmare due to the site’s precipitous conditions (#2). So we lowered the buildable area six feet by burrowing into the side of the hill instead of building over and around, and the resulting two-story, 9,000-square-feet home conforms to the realities of the site without compromising the homeowner's vision (#3).
For all of the project’s initial complications, the residence itself is based on a deceptively simple L-shaped model, with two asymmetrical wings bracketing a grand lawn that extends out towards the chasms below and the cityscape beyond. The longer of the two wings holds the home’s primary living spaces, with a living room , dining room and kitchen paced along the ground floor and a master suite and two children’s bedrooms above, while the second contains service facilities and guest quarters. A lower level features a wine cellar , movie theater, and a spa with rooms for sauna, steam, and massage.
Green, White & Blue
Because we decided to build into the hill the exterior views differ dramatically depending on where you’re standing. From the street, the façade is unassuming, tucked away and wrapped entirely by a patterned rain screen composed of white Swisspearl cement panels. This screening leaves minimal visual openings into the building’s main exterior, an effect that barely hints at the scope of the interior grounds.
On the other side of the entrance, however, the project’s full expanse is on display, and the view is dominated by the interplay between the home’s relatively simple structural geometry and the varying hues and textures of the natural landscape.
The building’s structural steel frame appears to suspend above a glass-enclosed first floor, yet is also clad in glass, protected from the extreme sunlight by a grill-like sequencing of custom-designed vertical louvers , cleft from the same Swisspearl cement panel material used in front. The stark white Swisspearl, coupled with the natural green of the grounds and the blues of the gentle reflections off the façade’s glass majority, establishes a subtle aesthetic palette that reinforces the structure’s relationship to its occupied space.
Other substantial materials used include exposed concrete, travertine, exposed steel, plate steel, and wood. The interior has Austrian-textured wood floors and echoes the exterior with a reliance on glass paneling and muted concrete.
Immediately mounted inside the home’s entrance is a sculpture by Mexican artist Jonathan Hernandez that spells out “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, a reference to the 1984 Smith’s hit of the same name. Installed by Oberfeld in playful juxtaposition to the home’s readily apparent luxury, the work is part of his larger personal collection on display in the glass-ceilinged foyer/gallery.
In organizing the interior we, too, were thinking of the project’s considerable scope, and we approached the design with restraint, prioritizing functionality over more opulent gestures, and emphasizing a feeling of spatial unity and progression as you move throughout the home’s many different elements. Like the exterior, the palette is relatively muted, and the predominant use of wood, concrete and glass establishes living areas that confuse the natural demarcation between indoor/outdoor and shelter/wilderness: even when you’re inside, you still feel like you’re kind of outside.
Although encompassing such a large number of different programming elements, and despite being situated in one of Los Angeles’ most exclusive enclaves, it was important to both us and the client that the project maintain an understated elegance reminiscent of the area’s mid-century modernism but ultimately unburdened by any era or style. A home built in the 2010s, it’s our hope that you’d never be able to guess.
- AIACC Residential Awards, Single-Family Residential 2014
- Custom Home Magazine Residential Architecture Award 2012
- California Home and Design Magazine Award 2012
- Dream Home Awards Contemporary Home of the Year 2011