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ARCHITECTURE : Echoes of Mexico : Ricardo Montalban's Home Represents a Fusion of Cultures

June 26, 1988|SAM BURCHELL | Sam Burchell writes about antiques and interior design for this magazine.

THE HOUSE rises from a crest in the Hollywood Hills as if it were part of the land itself. With no windows on the entrance facade, it is initially forbidding, then intriguing as the warmth of its visual geometry becomes apparent.

Designed by Ricardo Legorreta, who at 56 is Mexico's premier younger architect, the house, like its owner, actor Ricardo Montalban, bridges Mexican and Californian sensibilities.

"Walls, water and earth colors, the three elements from Mexican culture," Legorreta has said, are clearly evident in the home.

In this house, it is the use of walls, in particular, that echoes both Mexico's Indian monuments and Spanish Colonial architecture. Coming together at sharp angles with openings that constantly reveal other walls, other rooms, they invite people to move through the space while providing a feeling of intimacy.

Montalban and his wife, Georgiana, originally envisioned a Spanish Colonial home on the site, but for Legorreta, a disciple of the great Mexican architect Luis Barragan, it is essential that architecture grow from the land. Montalban recalls that after exploring their site and making sketches, Legorreta told them: "I don't see a house here, I see a sculpture." And indeed, what emerged could be described as residential sculpture.

The project was a collaboration, with Georgiana Montalban (whose mother, Gladys Belzer, was a renowned Los Angeles decorator) designing the interior and supervising the outside planting. "You cannot really bring Mexico to the United States," she says, "and in the end that is not what we wanted. Each country has its own demands and directions, and the layout itself would have been far different in Mexico. We simply wanted to suggest it."

Standing on the stunning ocher west terrace, Montalban is surrounded by the sound and sight of small pools and fountains and a view ranging over the panorama of Los Angeles from downtown to the Pacific Ocean.

"It is a fusion of the two countries most important to me--America and Mexico," he says, "but even that is not really the important thing. Above all, it is our home."

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