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A Bold Place in the Sun

July 06, 1986|MARILOU VAUGHAN | Marilou Vaughan is a senior editor of Los Angeles Times Magazine

You can't call this an adobe because it is built of cement, and it isn't Santa Fe architecture because it's in Studio City." That is Brentwood designer-builder Stephen Ball describing one of his intriguing houses, pictured here. "I think Southwest Architecture probably says it best," he concludes.

Ball, who was assisted by Donald Randall, a young Southern California architect, and Carol Piehl, the project manager, says that the building's site is responsible for the design. "The site is very steep, and I wanted the house to work with that. I didn't want to chop away the side of the hill or put the house on stilts or use any of the usual solutions. What we did was cut out a series of terraces and step the house up them."

Of the three main challenges in any design project--aesthetic, functional, financial--Ball's judgment about which is the hardest to meet has changed over the years. "In the '70s, when I was just starting out, I thought the aesthetic was the most difficult problem I faced. Then I realized that I could handle that just fine but it was the functional, the practical aspect that was the real problem. Well, time and experience have taken care of that too. Now I realize I can make anything if I have the financial resources." As an example, he points to the rounded edges of the interior surfaces. "These are great to look at, and I think they are safer, but they are more expensive to do than hard edges. I thought whoever liked details like that and was willing to pay for them would probably be a single guy, in the movie business. The whole house is sort of a fantasy, like a movie. I never imagined a couple with children would buy it."

Norman and Debbie Greenwood, who moved in last October, are amused by that. Norman owns several one-hour photo stores, so although he can be said to be "in films," it is not exactly in the customary sense. "We started out looking for a house with Spanish architecture," he says. "This certainly isn't one of those. But we liked the extensive use of stucco, and the fact that we were getting a place where everything is new."

"There are so many other nice things, too," Debbie adds. "I joke that I'm like a chicken. Until the light hits my retinas, I don't wake up. Well, because of the atrium, this house is always bright. And though there are many levels and a lot of square feet, it's so open that I can hear the children even when I'm at the opposite end of it."

Ball, when asked whether he would like to work in this style again, found a number of reasons to say yes. "The design is energy-efficient because it makes use of passive solar heat. It suits Southern California because it takes advantage of the outdoors. In addition to all the balconies, the entire roof can be used as deck space. And the interior makes a good background for furniture and art because it's not intrusive."

PRODUCED BY CHARLES ROSS

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