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STYLE: ARCHITECTURE : Chez Sassoon

August 15, 1993|AARON BETSKY

It's a bright Monday morning, and hair-cutting pioneer Vidal Sassoon is holding court at his Beverly Hills home, which designer Larry Totah has just finished remodeling. Since marrying Ronnie Holbrook, a former product designer, a year ago, Sassoon has abandoned his bachelor pad in Century City for something more spacious and relaxing. "I wanted a place to be at home," he says. "I've been here since Friday evening and haven't left since. I even have my meetings here." From the Sassoons' sun-drenched courtyard, the house does feel more like a gathering spot than a hideaway. A rambling collage of glass, white walls and black columns, it's so open that it seems like one big deck overlooking the L.A. Basin. "People always say that modernism is impersonal, but I think it is very empathetic," Sassoon says. "Simple lines allow you to see the warmth of materials and to see nature."

Sassoon, whose famous geometric haircuts grew out of his study of 20th-Century architecture, appears to have been destined for this house. It's the latest example of a local tradition (best exemplified by Richard Neutra's work) of viewing a house as a "machine in the garden," a finely honed, abstracted perch from which inhabitants can enjoy Southern California's landscape. And Totah provides a grandeur unexpected from such a minimalist attitude--new granite-clad columns and the sweep of his custom furniture make the structure seem larger than it is.

Totah, who designed the clothing store Maxfield, recalls that architect Harold Levitt's 1960 house "had good bones" but terrible clothes. Previous owners had carpeted the onyx terrazzo floors, hidden walls behind flocked paper and badly neglected a glass skylight over the courtyard.

He stripped away the distracting clutter, revealing a clean, contemporary-looking U-shaped house whose open end featured a lanai suspended over a swimming pool. He replaced and extended the pool, reconfigured the master bedroom suite, the den and the deck, created a library and added soffits to lower some of the ceilings for more intimacy. "I took my cue from Vidal and Ronnie," Totah says. The house is "very simple, very minimalist, but earthier and with lots of textures."

Overall, the design focuses attention outside, toward the views and the trees that screen the house from the neighbors. Says Ronnie Sassoon: "The glass planes are like movie screens with nature on it." Adds her husband: "Sometimes we just wander around at night, looking at the forms. There's nothing like clear lines and beautiful materials seen through glass."

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