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STYLE: ARCHITECTURE : Metalworks

July 17, 1994|AARON BETSKY

Living in the Pico Boulevard storefront where he made his large metal sculptures had put the squeeze on a Los Angeles artist and his museum-curator wife. So after 13 increasingly cramped years in the city, they set out in search of more space and wound up in Malibu, where they've built a dream house in the hills--a 7,400-square-foot home-studio-gallery.

With a "pre-engineered manufactured building system" (steel beams and galvanized steel sheeting intended for small warehouses and factories), the owners and architect Bradly Fenton of Fenton Architecture in Van Nuys were able to carve out soaring spaces while economizing on construction. "It arrived on the site in a series of boxes, all pre-drilled and cut, and then we put it together like a giant Erector set," Fenton says. "It has immense potential for creating a structure that is flexible. You can slip any number of forms into it and change anything at will. When I find a piece of land like this, I'm going to build one for myself."

The building, now weathered to a rich patina, looks like part of a vast agricultural enterprise, its huge barn doors waiting to be thrown open to the surrounding countryside. Actually, the upper level holds the studio, gallery and living areas; below are bedrooms, a drawing room and home office. All spaces are sparsely furnished but filled with light. Floors and windowsills of vertical-grain Douglas fir and countertops of black granite evoke an aesthetic that the owners attribute to their love of Japan and its culture.

By keeping everything simple, the owners have domesticated the industrial, creating a place that guides the eye in understanding both materials and structure. Each door and wall, for instance, is defined so that it can be appreciated as part of a whole or on its own. Says the artist: "I like revealing the nature of how things are made, both in my work and in architecture."

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