The husband-wife principals of Xten Architecture give an artist and a playwright's mid-century Los Angeles bungalow a steely new persona
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 8/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
Xten Architecture principals Monika Haefelfinger and Austin Kelly like to experiment with materials. Among the fledgling firm's recent Los Angeles–area commissions, the V house in the San Fernando Valley is clad solely in redwood planks; part of the facade of the Polyhouse, on the Venice canals, is translucent polycarbonate. Nearby in Venice, at Xten's M house, the M is for metal, specifically galvanized corrugated steel.
The M house's owners, Kevan and Maria Jenson, are a formidable force in L.A.'s indie creative world. He's a painter who uses a torch to apply smoke to canvas, showing the results at West Hollywood's Hamilton-Selway Fine Art and Chryssanthou. She's a playwright whose Shrinks opens in October at the Hudson Backstage in Hollywood. Together, the pair shoot the occasional documentary.
The Jensons' house started out as a 900-square-foot 1950's bungalow with a detached garage that Kevan Jenson used as a studio. After some four years there, the couple were feeling cramped, but they didn't want to relocate. "There's something about a house that's been here for 50 years," Kevan Jenson says. So he and his wife chose to reconfigure and expand instead, calling on Xten.
Haefelfinger and Kelly retained the footprint of the quaint bungalow but increased volume and light by raising the roof, from 8 to 12 feet, and adding windows. Repositioning the front door allowed the architects to transform a bedroom into an entry gallery with space to display several of Kevan Jenson's mysterious smoky canvases. The remainder of the original house was reconfigured to include a kitchen, living room, and guest room with bath.
Behind the renovated bungalow, Xten built an 1,800-square-foot L-shape addition, which absorbed the area once taken up by the detached garage to create a U-shape whole clad in galvanized corrugated steel. "I knew we needed one material to wrap and unify the volume," Kelly recalls. "Steel could form the roof, the walls, even an integral gutter. It gives continuity to the surfaces."
The base of the U is a three-level structure. An industrial digital studio—where the Jensons work on their editing, graphic design, and film projects—occupies the ground level, facing the interior courtyard through a wall of glass sliders. (The couple's documentary Surfing L.A. is currently in postproduction.) Above, in the serene master bedroom, the mottled grays of a large Kevan Jenson canvas contrast with the colorful stripes of a wool rug and the sharp lines of a wengé bench and a black polyurethane chaise longue. Finally, at the very top of this part of the addition, is the 100-square-foot aerie where Maria Jenson writes at a Douglas fir desk. Throughout, radiant-heated concrete flooring emphasizes the edgy art-gallery vibe.
Unlike today's hordes of wannabe loft dwellers, the Jensons like rooms, places to work separately from each other and to separate work from living. "Different places for different states of mind," is how Maria Jenson describes it. "We've got a zillion doors." (Actually 20.)
On the far side of the U is Kevan Jenson's new art studio, 600 square feet and double-height. A skylight and a pair of oversize roll-up doors ensure plenty of inspirational sunshine. The street door is aluminum for privacy; a glass door opens to the courtyard, providing the artist with a semi-alfresco work environment. "This is L.A.," says Haefelfinger. "Now the house is a real indoor-outdoor space."
Bordered by a concrete patio, the gravel courtyard is essentially a second living room—or an open-air media room, furnished with a pair of Philippe Starck's chunky white polyethylene armchairs and three leather-covered cushions for lounging. When night falls, the Jensons often light some logs in the fire pit, stretch a tarp over the courtyard's 7-foot-high fence, and screen their own films or old favorites, such as Fellini's 81/2. After a day working apart, it's nice to watch a movie together.