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ARCHITECTURE : Rebuilt to Tilt

August 14, 1994|MORRIS NEWMAN

When remodeling a condominium, most architects concentrate all their efforts on the interior and never touch the exterior. But Santa Monica architect Barbara Coffman, a sculptor of intriguing spaces, brought a more complete vision to the Venice Beach condo of Philip and Madeline Schwarzman.

A stucco box from the early '70s, the building consisted of four floors of unremarkable rooms before Coffman "pulled in" the oceanfront windows from the structural frame. This created a wall of glass and wood that tilts and curves like an old-fashioned roller-coaster track. Seen from outdoors, the condo now looks almost organic, a seed pod growing inside an egg carton. Inside, the wave-like wall inspired similar contours in the living-dining area, particularly the undulating sofas, by Ellen and Michael Houpt of San Diego, and the buffet, by April Newman and Laurie Cesario of Santa Monica. Coffman's ingenuity also freed up space for a small balcony off the living room.

In a hallway leading to children's bedrooms and a study, the architect designed another area where "something is always happening as you walk through." The new passageway, once a corridor she likened to "a dark bowling alley," features niches carved out of the walls and a ceiling of various heights. Elsewhere, Coffman introduced other imaginative touches. In the master bathroom, for instance, where the walls remain unaltered, she surrounded the tub with unfinished flagstone slabs.

The architecture is bold and the color scheme, based on paintings by Matisse and Gauguin, is vibrant. Still, the Schwarzmans find their home restful--an especially important consideration for Philip, an emergency-room physician. They also appreciate that Coffman didn't allow the design to be "swallowed up" by an overwhelming view of the ocean, as is often the case in beachfront properties. Says Philip: "We thought it would be good to make all parts of the house exciting."

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