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FALL HOME DESIGN

Nautural Habitat : Creating a Serene Shelter for Both Body and Soul

October 04, 1998|BARBARA THORNBURG

For architect Ted Wells, designing a home isn't about merely meeting physical needs, but addressing emotional and spiritual ones as well. Serenity pervades the 1,900-square-foot house in Laguna Niguel where he lives and works--a change from nine years ago when he first saw the '70s ranch-style property. "Every square inch was covered in ivy like those green-sprouted terra-cotta sheep they advertise on TV," he recalls. And while the exterior resembled a Chia Pet, the small, dark rooms inside were decorated with flocked wallpaper and shag carpeting. So Wells left the footprint of the house intact, gutted the interiors and reconfigured space around a living-room hub. "I wanted to add a central place to a house that didn't feel centered," says Wells, who was inspired by old California courtyard homes that opened onto a central garden area.

The integration of the indoors and outdoors figures prominently in the work of Wells, whose architecture and building firm, Ted Wells Mark Noble, also designs landscapes. His 22-foot-long bougainvillea-covered arbor at the front of the house creates a dramatic transition between the garden and building. Just as arresting is the walkway to the front door, which becomes progressively more textured--first asphalt, then concrete, then aggregate and, finally, small stones. As Wells puts it: "When you go through the arbor door and step onto the pebbles, it's meant to slow you down a bit, not just physically but mentally."

Further blurring the distinction between the natural and man-made worlds, Wells pruned one of his eucalyptus trees and placed a large limb from the lemon-scented gum in the new hipped-roof vestibule. To find the right shades for walls and ceilings, he matched paint chips to eucalyptus bark, pods and leaves in his garden. Periodically, he even hangs a freshly cut branch in the dining room: "At night, the leaves cast shadows over the table. There's something about the filtered light through the leaves that is magical."

Light dances through a total of six skylights from morning until night. In the hallway off the bedroom, one of them channels sunlight past exposed ceiling joists. In the living room, a lantern-like tower stands five feet above the roof line. "When the rest of the house is in shadows," Wells says, "it captures the last light of the day."

But it's also the pared-down furnishings that have turned a once-ordinary house into a tranquil retreat. For instance, Wells fashioned the sole piece of furniture in the expanded bedroom: a platform bed of 1-by-4s stacked like Lincoln Logs. In other rooms, he has mixed some of his other inventive pieces with those of 20th century masters such as Eames, Bertoia and Le Corbusier. Explains Wells: "I wanted to furnish it simply. Keeping the house well-edited adds to the visual quietness."

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