Art in Architecture
Nicholas Budd Dutton creates a southern California residence for collectors of contemporary British art.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 8/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
Amid a southern California community renowned for "monster" houses stretching to the limits of property lines, William Nicholas, Susan Budd, and John Dutton built a different kind of residence for clients who are collectors of contemporary British art. The architects' project is neither a Mediterranean meltdown nor an ersatz plantation manse, but an exquisitely crafted dwelling sensitive to issues of scale, mass, and the region's distinctive architectural history as exemplified by the work of Irving Gill and Rudolf Schindler. "The main design idea," begins Susan Budd, "was to establish a simple backdrop for the main workings of the house and create a series of pavilions, each establishing its own dialogue with the landscape."
Their self-defined task, however, was anything but simple. The half-acre lot was to accommodate a 7,500-sq.-ft. home base for the couple's grown children, spouses, and offspring. In all, interiors would encompass five bedrooms and six baths, including a master suite, plus the usual assortment of individual rooms for living, dining, den, study, kitchen, and home office. Despite a growing collection comprised of many large-scale works, the clients opted for a traditional array of function areas, rather than an amorphous loft space. Aside from that stipulation, the clients only other requirement was large walls for the display of art.
The architects' solution, straddling contemporary and traditional camps, takes a basic H-configuration and embellishes it with projections that also serve as opportunities for shifts in materials and roof profiles. The two-story structure adheres to a time-honored plan of central entry flanked by wings for living room and study on one side, dining room, kitchen, and den on the other. For the most part, plaster finishes a wood-frame construction.
French doors and mahogany louvers define the dining room walls, which can be opened onto a walled courtyard culminating in a black-on-black in-situ artwork. The office is distinguished by exterior redwood paneling and oriented to capture the morning sun.
Through the series of pavilions and planar setbacks, the architects successfully mitigated mass. In a town where houses scream for street-front attention, this muted alternative earns kudos. To be truly appreciated, however, the house must be experienced from the inside. Its impressive volumes, most notably the living room with a sloped ceiling reaching to 14 ft., establish this as a distinctly contemporary project. But materials, bringing texture and emphasis to specific planes, counteract any implied sangfroid. Sustainable bamboo was used for much of the flooring and for the ceilings of second-floor public spaces. Medium-density fiberboard surfaces fold living and dining room ceilings. Window and doorframes are of a deep-stained Douglas fir, a nod to the Arts and Crafts furnishings in the clients' collection. Ribbed mahogany, Venetian plaster, and honed marble are more precious, yet their restrained application avoids ostentation.
Detailing, particularly that of the fenestration, is a source of constant surprise. Clerestories and corner windows fill the house with daylight, while overhead slots, in lieu of central skylights, wash selected walls with light. The living room's end-wall window is something of a work of art itself. Its beveled drywall surround frames a setting equal to any painting of a pastoral scene.
Although the clients have been collecting Art and Crafts furniture for the past decade, their passion for the Young British Art is more recent. "We've spent so much time in London," the wife comments. "For years I looked for contemporary art, and suddenly there it was. It used to be all watercolors and Turner." She evidently has good instincts, having purchased two Wolfgang Tillmanns photographs prior to his receiving the Turner Prize, Damien Hirst's The Last Supper, Chris Ofili's watercolor diptych, and Mona Hatoum's sculpture, Egg Slicer.
The client prizes works she describes as having "a sense of levity and quirkiness." To wit: Tim Noble and Sue Webster's light-bulb sculpture Vicious, which subsequently governed the design of the mantel-less fireplace, or Steven Gontarski's life-size sculpture. Clearly, the couple favors emerging artists, finding them in London galleries like Interim Art, Approach, Modern Art, Hales, Cabinet, and Entwistle.
Completing the art and architecture are furnishings selected by interior design partners Allison Hanes and Kari Wohl. Mostly custom, their pieces comprise a carefully edited mix that complements the clients' existing turn-of-the-century items.
"We spent enough time on design [six months] and didn't get too attached to first moves," Nicholas says of the project's success. Budd adds: "We kept the balance between the tactile comfort of a house and one appropriate for modern art. Gallery spaces are wonderful for art but horrible to live in."