Romancing The Ranch
In the hills above Los Angeles, Warren Techentin takes his own 1950's house from dingy to dazzling
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 7/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
It was a real-estate gold mine: the worst house on one of the best streets in Los Feliz. Warren Techentin—whose practice, Techentin Buckingham Architecture, is mostly residential—was undeterred by the fact that the sole owner hadn't done a thing, renovation-wise, since the ranch was built in 1953. Less enthusiastic was his wife, Mimi, a television writer who also heads up the Los Angeles office of the auction house Phillips de Pury & Company. Sure, the site was impeccable, a hillside lot, once part of a grand property that now has a trio of residences. And the area was tops, with its arboretum-dense foliage and relative proximity to downtown, Beverly Hills, and Techentin's native Pasadena. But what about the rotting facade and all those termites?
Ultimately, Techentin's vision of a revamped and expanded house prevailed. He retained the foundation and partial basement, but almost everything else about the structure is new, including an 800-square-foot second story that brings the total square footage to 3,000. From the outside, the crisply cantilevered volumes of black-stained redwood slats, setting off windows framed in Granny Smith green, have made the house an instant landmark. The interior plan involves a collection of rooms in what he calls "different loops and circuits," which open up to both the backyard and the neighborhood. On the existing ground floor, he continues, he created "latent domestic boxes corresponding to the activities of the house." That translates into an open living-dining area, an enclosed kitchen, a bar, a media room, an office for his wife, and a library built into the stairwell. Each has a distinct character. "I'm a modernist, yes," he states. "But I'm interested in a riff on Victorianism in that each room is an entity in itself, whether casual or formal." That's a big part of what makes this multi-textured house so interesting.
The entry and living-dining area all occupy a single white, ipé-floored container with a huge butt-joined corner window that turns outside greenery into framed artwork. Into this long box of a room went classics, old and new. At the entry, a Gerrit Rietveld chair straddles the line between original and reproduction. "A friend made it for a class project at the Rhode Island School of Design, which I'm told owns the Rietveld chair's original plans," Techentin explains. The living area's pair of tweed-covered Florence Knoll armchairs face an ultra-long Paola Lenti sofa in deep-brown woven rope—actually an outdoor piece. To one side sits a futuristic magnesium chair by Ross Lovegrove. On the other, Warren Platner's classic chrome side table meets a traditional bergère jazzed up with pink-and-white toile.
Beyond the living-dining area, the kitchen opens to the backyard and swimming pool. At least that's how it works today. This space was once the master suite, with no access to the outdoors. Now the exterior walls are nothing more than milky-white corrugated plastic over studs, transforming the entire kitchen into a glowing light box in the morning sunshine. Casual meals take place in a figurative forest: a nook lined in tree-patterned wallpaper. More "interior landscape," as Techentin describes floral wallpaper, ups the interest factor in the bar, formerly the galley kitchen. The reuse of glass doors here shows resourcefulness and resource-mindedness. Elsewhere, eco-friendly new glass is low-E and UV-filtering.
Green of a more decorative sort makes a splash in the upstairs master suite, with the chartreuse cabinetry and carpet of an enviable 110-square-foot dressing room. Views of palms and leafy liquid-amber trees seem to fill the bedroom. Also visible through the windows, the purple petals of flowers in the garden inspired the selection of magenta felt for Lenti's chair and ottoman—but the color coordination with a print by Raymond Pettibon was purely accidental.
The Techentins have assembled an impressive art collection over the past 10 years. Take the totem in a corner of the living area: An Te Liu's 11-foot-high round column of white plastic air filters gives one pause. HVAC component or installation piece? Bridging the art-furniture divide is Techentin's own seven-sided cocktail table of quarter-sawn oak. He explains that the angular cutouts in the table's top were inspired by a Frank Stella painting, then adds, "It's a miniature of a conference table I did five years ago." Then there's artist-designer Roy McMakin's pair of massive dining tables and coordinating chairs, all oak. Pae White contributed the library's 30-armed spray-painted porcelain chandelier, shipped in pieces from Lithuania and assembled on-site. The artist offered five color choices for her work. The Techentins chose sky blue, then painted nearby shelving to match.