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INTERIORS : Warming Trend : Classic Furnishings Personalize a Coolly Modern Beach Home

September 04, 1988|VIRGINIA GRAY | Virginia Gray is an associate editor of the Los Angeles Times Magazine.

THIS IS NOT A TYPICAL Southern California beach house. Its type of architecture--in the International Style--has been disparaged by critics as bare, abstract and impersonal. Yet despite the building's stark, modern lines, this particular unit becomes warm and personal when filled with classic modern and antique furnishings.

The origins of this project are a multifamily story. Eleven years ago, architect Charles Kanner of Kanner Associates of Westwood, his wife, Judith, and three other families purchased two acres of land on a bluff near Paradise Cove in Malibu. It was Kanner's assignment to design four attached residences on the property. "Giving each of the four units maximum view, and giving each home complete privacy from the others, were the two biggest challenges," Kanner recalls.

After years of designing and redesigning, construction on the project, called Seacliff by the owners, began in 1985. Less than a year ago, the four families finally moved into their respective units, each with 5,000 square feet of living space and a virtually identical floor plan.

Interestingly, Kanner's original design for the fourplex did not feature its current white stucco exterior. On original blueprints, the building was designed with a shingled exterior, which was more in the vernacular of the 1970s, when the structure was first planned. But as the years passed and Seacliff remained on the drawing board, Kanner's ideas and those of his partners / clients changed, and the structure took on its present look. Although the exterior changed during the building's long delay, the design of the interior spaces remained essentially the same. Kanner and his son, Stephen, also an architect at Kanner Associates, made only a few revisions. "While cohesion and conformity were necessary in the design of the exterior of the building," Kanner says, "each family had design freedom to express their aesthetic on the interior of each unit. The simplicity of the interiors of each of these houses was intended to be a background for the personal expressions of each family."

Adds Stephen Kanner: "The interiors are not complex or quirky. They are volumes of space designed to respond to light and view."

What the Kanners did with the inside of their own residence is in dramatic contrast to the outside. The Kanner home, decorated by Judith Kanner, a screenwriter, is warm and personal, filled with family treasures collected during the Kanners' 36-year marriage, along with artwork by Charles, Stephen and the Kanners' daughter, Catherine.

The furnishings are a melange of modern, old and new. Classic pieces include modern architect-designed furniture by Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, Frank Lloyd Wright and Eliel Saarinen. These reside in surprising harmony next to antiques that include a Thonet bench, a Louis-Philippe desk and other English and French furniture, as well as colorful Caucasian rugs.

"Chuck and Stephen said I was the worst damn client they ever had," Judith Kanner says, "and I lost most of the design battles. But they let me haul in all my old stuff--rugs, antiques, toys and family photographs--and mix it all up with Corbu and Mies, leather and steel and glass. Stephen always says that I'm able to blend the old and the new, and I tell you why: Anything that's good design is going to work together no matter if it's a contemporary design or an antique. If something is good, it's good."

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