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STYLE: ARCHITECTURE : Angles of Repose : Hard edges in three homes are softened by blendings of concrete and wood

March 27, 1994|AARON BETSKY

You wouldn't expect to find Wonderland in the scrubby hills east of downtown San Diego, but a little slice of it hides behind an innocuous galvanized metal, glass and concrete-block facade. Cross the wooden footbridge, open the door, and suddenly an immense space opens up below, tumbling downward in a succession of stairs and platforms. At the bottom lies a lofty room dominated by a giant mural lashed to a "floating" glass-and-wood-stud wall. Alice doesn't live here, but this architectural fantasy is home to muralist Linda Churchill and her husband, Nicholas Weiss. Together, they make up Muralizing, the 8-year-old company responsible for the painted images behind the scoreboard at Jack Murphy Stadium and over the new bars at Del Mar racetrack. "She does the painting and I do the rigging," says the British-born Weiss, a former yacht captain.

In 1988, in the community of Encanto, Churchill and Weiss discovered a place where they wanted to both live and work. Unfortunately, it featured only a small bungalow that stood below street level. So they asked architect Jeanne McCallum to build an addition: "Design one huge open room in which anything can happen." Weiss, a fan of the English TV series "Dr. Who," also suggested that an entrance tower could resemble the program's time machine.

In response, McCallum, a young designer of small homes, crafted a building inspired by the steep but ample site. A metal roof and terraced floors mimic the slope of the hill; between them is wide-open space. A solid concrete-block wall screens out neighbors, and a lattice of glass and fir frames the views. The new loft-like space is not function-specific, though cooking and dining tend to take place on the cantilevered top deck, office chores are performed at mid-level and the lowest level is "either a living room or a studio, depending on the projects we're working on," Churchill says. To complement the new space, the couple are renovating the original house to serve as a more conventional living area.

The overall feeling is one of rough-and-ready flexibility, in which planned uses give way to many different activities. "In this space," Churchill says, "we can just be kids. We can do whatever we want. We never have to grow up. It's a space that lends itself to an easy kind of energy, and it's much more than we ever imagined possible."

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