Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 1/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
"Big houses often bear the burden of too much program," says Leo Marmol. He should know. He and Ron Radziner have built a battery of trophy houses for the rich, famous, and fashionable: Tom Ford, Steven Meisel, et al.
But the partners are also well versed in modestly scaled dwellings, such as Radziner's own 2,400-square-foot house in Venice, California, and restoration projects, including six Richard Neutra residences. Altering a 1,250-square-foot Pasadena studio by Thornton Ladd, Marmol Radziner and Associates respected the architect's original intent while simultaneously making a sotto voce update.
Flash back to 1950, when Ladd—following in the footsteps of many a budding architect—developed the property for his mother. Called Hilltop, it included a studio for himself, of which he wrote, "A simple rectangle with wood joists, steel frames, concrete sheer walls. . . . One room with screens for partition."
However, Marmol Radziner's engineer client envisioned more: an intimate Asian-inspired enclave for guests or aprivate getaway for himself. The architects acknowledged his idea—but insisted on respecting the structure's modern quality as well. Think the Teahouse of the August Moon meets the Barcelona Pavilion.
The renovated lower level is a paean to Asian serenity. Want to meditate, rest, or engage in ritualistic bathing? This is the Zen zone. The upper level, consisting of a living area and kitchen, remains true to its occidental roots.
Materials play a significant role in establishing the relationship between Eastern calm and Western edge. "Downstairs is more earthy and organic," Radziner says. Tatami mat covers the floor and continues up the end wall. Cedar appears in the form of cabinetry, ceiling paneling, and decking for the terrace, contributing texture to a seamless background. Furnishings are pared down to the essential. Marmol Radziner chose Blake Simpson's travertine-topped table for its Miesian quality, then added silk-covered floor cushions for seating. And that's it.
Equally Zen in aura is the newly enlarged downstairs bathroom, equipped with a Japanese-style cedar soaking tub. The shower is partially enclosed by laminated glass panels, the controls integrated into a concrete wall.
Upstairs, the indoor-outdoor line blurs in a way that's purely, proverbially Californian. A former roof terrace—now enclosed in steel and glass and topped by a concrete slab—retains suggestions of its former open-air self while also functionally joining the second-floor living area, furnished with the firm's recent collection of reissued modernist and new pieces. Floor and ceiling are maple, which wraps surfaces in the adjacent kitchen as well. "Maple is a smoother, less textured wood than cedar," Radziner explains.
Finishes and furniture make their quiet statement upstairs and down, but much of the architects' intervention at the Hilltop studio is invisible to the uninitiated eye. The entire steel framework is new, built at Marmol Radziner's studio. Manually operated canvas sunscreens have disappeared, replaced by motorized panels of laminated rice paper and glass. Touch-screen panels operate lighting and the audiovisual system.
The job's chief challenge? "Making the detailing look clean," Radziner replies. The greatest joy? Says Marmol, "A small project means a clear concept."