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New Modes for Modern Lives

A UCLA show examines homes that reject traditional models. But what's it like to live in one of those houses?

October 29, 2000|DIANE HAITHMAN | Diane Haithman is a Times staff writer

* Architect: Ben Van Berkel.

* Residents: The Lavermans--Wim, 54, publisher and editor of trade magazines; Hetty, 51, social work manager; and Floks, 16 (Violet, 19, is away at college).

This house is loosely based on the seamless, single-sided mathematical model known as the Mobius strip.

Wim Laverman: It was of course the idea of the architect, but we gave him a briefing on our wishes and our needs. His first drawing was just a sketch, but it was already there, the Mobius ring. When the house was finished, we [felt that] we had created it ourselves, because we feel it like a second skin. [It] gives us a feeling of continuous movement, just an endless space. But it is very difficult to describe, because we hardly feel it--it is a part of our lives.

[The neighborhood] is pretty old-fashioned, even by Dutch standards; most houses were built 50 to 80 years ago. Some [neighbors] like the house, most of them don't--but they can appreciate the design, that it is something completely different.

I've always looked ahead in my business, in my work, in my life. I hardly have any archives, I don't store things, I don't own a lot of things. When you design a house for yourself in such a case, you have a modern and futuristic way of looking at it.

Shorthand House,

Houston, Texas, 1997

* Architect: Francois de Menil.

* Resident: Elsian Cozens, 66, former assistant to late art patron and collector Dominique de Menil (mother of the architect); currently handles special events for the Menil Foundation and Menil Collection Museum, Houston.

The house's name refers to the architectural shorthand of using elements like a table or the fireplace hearth, rather than traditional walls, to define the "rooms" in this open, flexible house.

Cozens: I lived in Houston in a large Cape Cod-type house on about an acre of land. But my children have all grown up, gone off, have children of their own. So I decided I would sell that house and build more of what I call a city house.

By this period, Francois [de Menil] had become an architect, he had designed the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum [part of the Menil complex], which I think is brilliant. Everything just sort of fell into place.

I found a wee bit of land in the heart of Houston, facing Rice University. It's only 50 feet by 100 feet. I wanted to build something for me, because the house I lived in was something I purchased, it wasn't built for me.

It was very simple: I wanted space and light. That was about it. I do a great deal of my work at home, my work seems to go through the night and the weekends. Francois came up with this brilliant idea of what looks to be a wall, but when you slide the doors to each side, inside that space there is an office. The whole house is very, very efficient. You have this one room that's 70 feet long--but it becomes 4 1/2 rooms, by opening and closing doors. It's sort of like an origami: It opens up and closes up as you need it.

I can't wait to put the key in the door--my house is so embryonic, it is so gentle and so quiet, although I'm on a very busy street. I don't know what the magic is. It took me more than two years before I put up a piece of art, because I did not want to invade the architecture.


"The Un-Private House," UCLA's Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., (310) 443-7000. Through Jan. 7.

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