A Tree Grows In Brentwood
A Los Angeles estate by Hagy Belzberg and Meg Joannides is focused on a stately oak
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Hagy Belzberg is fearless when it comes to tweaking the tenets of modern design. But the Belzberg Architects principal was less intrepid when good friends asked him to plan their house on a prime 1-acre lot in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. "No family, no friends," Belzberg says, stating his usual cardinal rule of practice. "I was nervous about doing it."
He needn't have been. Especially since the organized, construction-savvy husband-and-wife clients knew what they wanted, enticing Belzberg with their vision of a serious structure. In addition, designer Meg Joannides, MLK Studio principal, came on board at the design development phase.
The wife's directives were clear: flat roofs, overhangs, and windows shaded by the architecture. Raised on the East Coast, "She grew up with modern architecture," Belzberg notes. Her style choices ran to rectilinear and cubist forms, nothing curvy or remotely flashy. The husband's primary request was straightforward: a place to play his guitars.
Along with these cues, Belzberg took one other element—perhaps the property's most impressive feature, a 200-year-old oak—as the basis for his design concept: "a campus of buildings" framing the venerable tree, which stands at the far end of the mostly level lot. The commission ultimately became two works of architecture: a 10,000-square-foot main residence and a 2,000-square-foot guest house, sandwiching a large courtyard with a swimming pool and grassy lawn, play space for the couple's two children. Behind the guest house, the tennis court is shaded by the mighty oak.
Belzberg planned the main house as three interlocking cubelike pavilions. Again, the clients knew what they wanted. "They were specific about how the rooms should unfold," says Belzberg, who put the garage, informal entry, mudroom, and home office at the front of the first—and largest—pavilion. Immediately beyond them is the light-filled great room, comprising an open-plan kitchen plus breakfast and TV areas, with sliding glass doors opening to the courtyard.
Belzberg wrapped the underside of the roof and sidewalls of the adjoining pavilion in a ribbon of Mangaris. This cube contains the dining room and celebratory stairway, a precision-engineered construction of walnut-wrapped steel treads and sapphire-white glass that's almost free-floating. "It's like its own folly," Belzberg notes. Directly above the dining room is the master suite; the children's bedrooms and bathrooms top the first pavilion. To the left of the main entry and its 4-foot-wide front door, the third pavilion is given over entirely to the formal living room.
The house unveils its interlocking complexity through procession. In the interest of harmony, Belzberg opted for a unified and minimalist materials palette: white-painted walls and walnut flooring throughout the public spaces; Calacutta marble countertops in the kitchen; Turkish and French limestone walls and flooring in the his-and-her master bathrooms. But he punched up the envelopes with detailing. At the main entry, a stacked bluestone wall extends into the foyer and wraps into the living room. The same stone recurs on the room's fireplace wall, where it underscores a flamelike painting by James Nares.
Joannides took charge of furnishings, and chimed in on material selections, too. Meetings, however, got off to an inauspicious start. "We fought," she says of her initial conversations with Belzberg. He counters: "I liked that she stood up to me."
But before that, Joannides, who has a strong background in visual merchandising and store planning, had to nab the commission. To clinch the deal, the designer focused her presentation boards on the house's toughest space: the living room, its 900 square feet and 16-foot-ceiling height in desperate need of taming. "It was like a sales job," Joannides recalls. Clearly, she nailed it.
Her cues came from the clients' entertaining and downtime needs. The living room is where large frequent fund-raisers and guitar practice take place. "I divided it into two sections approximately 1/3 and 2/3 in size," says Joannides, who anchored each with a neutral gray-cream wool rug and sleek armless chairs, some upholstered in oatmeal-colored silk mohair, others in leather. A Robert Bristow daybed and five porcupinelike glass pendant fixtures define the smaller area. The larger area, near the fireplace, features a generous 9-foot long sofa, its silk a rich mushroom color.
Dimensions are equally expansive for the dining room's furnishings. Made of the exotic wood Paldao, Joannides's table is a lavish 13 feet long and seats 14 in chairs covered with ecru leather that's been sting-ray stamped. A crystal pendant fixture runs the length of table, while Belzberg's bluestone-topped walnut console hangs on the opposite wall.
More walnut cabinetry appears in the great room, where Joannides reveals her product-placement talent. Sharing space with Ivan Baj's shaggy cubes and Gordon Guillaumier's black bucket chairs in the TV area are an Antonio Citterio sectional and an Arco lamp by the Castiglioni brothers. Arne Jacobsen high chairs line the gray and white–veined marble kitchen island. Eero Saarinen's table and chairs populate the breakfast area.
Upstairs, the master bedroom is a study in restrained luxury. Wengé-and-walnut nightstands flank the Christian Liaigre bed, which backs up to a wall padded in taupe-silk panels. A pair of Kevin Reilly's lanternlike pendants gently illuminate a dreamlike watery landscape by Matthew Brown.
Across real water—the property's 50-foot swimming pool—stands the guest house. "It's a reflection of the main house," says Belzberg, but it's more flexible. Sliding glass walls completely open the first floor to the courtyard, and a bluestone kitchen counter extends outdoors for party needs. Upstairs there's not only a full quota of Pilates equipment, but also a close-up view of the towering oak.