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An Old Clinic Takes On New Life as a Sculptor's Home and Studio

January 25, 1998|Barbara Thornburg

Simon Toparovsky, known for his handsome cast-metal sculptures, has given new meaning to the term "fixer-upper." Inspired by the urban landscape--and low prices--of Los Angeles' West Adams commercial district, he turned a run-down 1950s medical clinic with a maze of 20 small rooms into a spacious home and studio. Reconfiguring the 3,000 square feet into six large rooms, he knocked down interior walls and eliminated drop ceilings to expose the joists and gain three feet overhead. "One of the former tenants was a dentist," says Toparovsky, explaining how he had to rip nitrous oxide lines out of the remaining walls, then patch all the holes. And many rooms had a sink on one wall, which presented other challenges. "As for the floors," he recalls, "there were so many layers that it felt like an archeological dig." After stripping off several layers of linoleum and one each of asphalt tiles and ceramic pavers, he used a terrazzo grinder to polish the underlying concrete floors.

For a kitchen, Toparovsky added three feet of floor space and installed French doors in a back room off the former parking lot. He decorated with a 7-foot-high wainscot of colorful handmade Mexican tiles and floated a free-form yellow Formica counter in the middle of the room. The counter base is a storage unit salvaged from one of the medical offices. Another recycled cabinet houses dishes against the wall.

Outside, Toparovsky created an oasis of calm amid bustling neighborhood businesses. He removed an unsightly wood-and-metal entrance canopy and painted the plain red brick bubble-gum pink for pizazz. Then he erected a chain-link fence around the front yard and planted it with a cup-of-gold vine to muffle street noise and provide privacy. Because of the garden's northern exposure--"It doesn't get much light in winter, and it fries in summer"--Toparovsky introduced drought-resistant plantings, including Mediterranean fan palms, cactus and a large, spiky desert spoon. Many of his sculptures grace the grounds, including a bronze chained Icarus that hangs upside down from a cast-iron tree branch above a container pond of water lilies, water irises and papyrus.

For the interior garden outside the kitchen, Toparovsky enclosed a portion of the old parking lot. Landscaping includes an olive tree, agaves, aloes and other succulents. "I love how their color looks against the chartreuse wall," he says. A new pond runs the length of the new kitchen. "It's a completely natural ecosystem," he adds, "with oxygenating plants, goldfish and lilies for shade." More figures of Icarus abound here: One appears to free fall in front of a hand-troweled stucco wall, and yet another stands in the central fountain.

So what has it been like to work and live in the same place over the past seven years? "I love having my life and work intertwined," Toparovsky says. "While I'm waiting for the wax to cool, I can putter in the garden or go to the kitchen and whip up a soup for dinner."

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