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A Modern Adobe : A Pure, Simple Approach Weds Pueblo Style to L.A.'s Modernist Movement

June 11, 1989|SAM HALL KAPLAN | Sam Hall Kaplan is The Times' design critic.

THE DELICATELY CRAFTED, modestly styled house that architect Lorcan O'Herlihy recently designed in Malibu for his parents, actor Dan O'Herlihy and his wife Elsie, is on a slight plateau above Trancas Canyon. The 3,200-square-foot house--with its low profile; simple lines; small, sunken windows; thick, adobe-like walls, and roof hidden behind parapets--is an engaging blend of traditional pueblo and expressive modernist design principles.

"I just didn't think any design should, or could, compete with the site and the views, so I kept everything simple, almost minimalist," says the architect, who, after graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, served as an apprentice to such design luminaries as Kevin Roche and I. M. Pei, working with the latter on his famed addition to the Louvre in Paris. O'Herlihy recently opened an office in Venice in partnership with Richard Warner.

The low profile of the Malibu house is accented by the minimalist proportions of the 13-inch-thick, stucco-clad walls; the simple detailing of the square, wood-framed windows, and the spacing of the square, exterior lighting fixtures. Helping also to set the pueblo/modernist tone is the entry from the parking area. It leads past a similarly styled garage on an axis along a gently rising Saltillo tile walkway beneath a plain wooden pergola. On it, a bougainvillea arbor grows.

An oversize wooden door opens onto a warm, welcoming interior. Mexican tile accents the outer walk and continues into the house. You enter to a generously proportioned, 35x24-foot living room with a dramatic, 13-foot-high beamed ceiling. One wall is dominated by a large, graceful fireplace and another by a 10-foot-square window that frames a stunning view of the ocean and sky.

"With such a view, the house becomes a sort of backdrop," says the senior O'Herlihy, most recently seen in John Huston's "The Dead" and whose long, distinguished career includes an Academy Award nomination. "That is the way it should be."

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