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Geometry Lesson

A Contemporary Barn Lends New Perspective on a Time-Honored Design

October 04, 1998|MICHAEL WEBB

Jennifer Clark, a software engineer who loves horseback riding, dreamed of a house she could share with her 17-year-old daughter, Lisa, that would be open to nature. Torn between buying an existing home and building from scratch, she ultimately selected a woodsy site in Santa Monica Canyon and commissioned architect Melinda Gray, who came up with the idea of building a refuge reminiscent of a barn. "Melinda gives her clients what they want," Clark says, "even when it's a log cabin."

She and Gray began planning the house shortly after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, prompting Gray to propose using steel for part of the structural framework. It was costlier than wood but stronger and allowed her to enclose a larger undivided space. Then, drawing on her love of geometry, the architect designed the roof to slope from 24 feet in back to 20 feet in front. Walls play tricks with perspective, narrowing toward the backyard and imparting a sense of movement. A double-glazed skylight floods living areas with light. Gray describes the result as "an exploded barn that expands and compresses space and frames the landscape beyond."

To stay within her budget, Clark asked that the house not exceed 2,200 square feet. Gray made it appear larger by incorporating oversize windows and doors so Clark could see the garden and a metal roof so she could hear the patter of rain the way she did under the tin roof of a former home in Jamaica. The architect created a lofty living-dining room running the length of the house, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls at both ends. An open staircase with maple treads and steel handrails leads up from the entry to a mezzanine gallery that serves as a media room and connects to three bedrooms.

Gray and Clark agreed on interiors of exposed galvanized steel and glue-laminated beams, plus white rooms enriched by bold colors--an ochre face over the open hearth and an upstairs screen wall in Bermuda red. Maple floors and built-in maple plywood cabinets add warmth.

When it came to furnishing the house, Clark looked for pieces that enhanced the architecture. For the dining area, she picked a large conference table with a glass top and cherry base, designed by Jhane Barnes, and sleek cherry and metal chairs from Pottery Barn. A trio of moody Wade Hoefer landscapes alternate with small rectangular windows. She searched for armless sofas and found a classic modern Italian design that she had covered in nubby yellow cotton.

On a clear day, it's easy to imagine being in an open-sided, elegantly furnished pavilion in the country. Sunlight filters in, casting a pattern through the mezzanine floorboards. "Melinda gave me all the space I wanted," Clark says, "and she was wonderfully intuitive, adding intangible qualities that I would never have thought to ask for."

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