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Design 2001

A Yurt of One's Own

In L.A., guest quarters--ranging from the ostentatious to plain wacky--are all about privacy and, more important, style.

February 08, 2001|DIANNE BATES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jay Leno said it best when he was kidding around recently with "Tonight Show" bandleader Kevin Eubanks. "I can't believe how much money you have, Kevin," he joked. "Even your guest house has a guest house."

In Los Angeles, guest houses are about privacy, interesting design and increasingly luxury. Whether large or small, most provide an intimate personal space set well apart from the main dwelling. They have come a long way from the early small structures, dubbed "granny houses," that wealthy homeowners built in the 1930s behind their main residences to house visiting friends and family, who, because of the great weather here, made Los Angeles a regular vacation destination.

Today, some L.A. guest houses are bigger and more ostentatious than many family-sized dwellings in other cities. Some are just plain wacky. A few architects now are redefining the traditional guest house configuration. Lee Behzabi's current residential project in Culver City, for example, leads passersby to believe they are viewing one large two-story structure. But in reality, a guest house fronts the street, and across an interior courtyard sits the main house. The two are connected by only the two high cement block walls, creating the illusion of one residence.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday February 12, 2001 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong architect--A caption and story, "A Yurt of One's Own" (Feb. 8), incorrectly identified the architect of a Runyon Canyon Road guest house as Frank Lloyd Wright. His son, Lloyd Wright, was the architect.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 2, 2001 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Yurt--A Feb. 8 story in Southern California Living on guest houses incorrectly located the Getty House, the official residence of the L.A. Mayor. It is in Windsor Square, not Hancock Park.

Unfortunately, the urge to put an additional small structure on one's property without adhering to local code requirements seems to be irresistible to homeowners in hidden canyons in Los Angeles. Would-be Buckminster Fuller types often build their own fantasy structures on their property. These illegal dwellings are usually well hidden from the street and can range from odd geodesic shapes to spare, clean Japanese wood huts with no windows.

Charlie Pullman, a broker at Coldwell Banker/Fred Sands Realty, claims it's impossible to tell how many guest houses currently exist in L.A. because so many of them are illegal.

"Right now there are 440 properties in L.A. with guest houses on the market at prices ranging from $99,000 to $45 million," says Pullman. "There must be disclosure during the sale if there are no permits for the guest house. The city doesn't get involved with the sale and only sends inspectors out when there is a complaint about a guest house or some kind of problem with the deal."

He says properties with guest houses are really sought after because "people like to pay their mortgages with guest house rental fees."

In Los Angeles, most properties are zoned "R-1" for a single-use residence, which does not allow for additional structures. In order to build a dwelling on the land, a property must be zoned R-2.

Potential guest house renters are well advised to check with local authorities about the legality of the house, lest they lose their living quarters to code inspectors.

The styles may differ, but the concept of the guest house is age-old. Even Marie Antoinette kept a small (well, small for French royalty) residence from which to escape the intrigues and conspiracies at the huge palace.

Guest houses range from the conventional as the quaint Tudor-style one at the Getty House, the official residence of the L.A. mayor, to an adaptation of the yurt, shelters used by tribes in Mongolia and Afghanistan.

Breathtaking View of the Pacific Ocean

Happy is the tenant who lives in the guest house of the Meier residence. Designed and completed between 1995 and 1997 by architect Edward Niles, the stunning modern glass and steel residence high in the Malibu hills was built for the late Cal State Northridge professor Dorothy Meier. Niles is known for his geometric iconoclastic residences built for well-heeled clients in hidden canyons. Like most of Niles' clients, professor Meier worked closely with the architect throughout the entire construction phase.

The guest house, which mimics the cylindrical shape of the main house's bedroom, occupies the upper level of a two-story drum that flanks the entry to the main house and also serves as the garage. The small round space is barely big enough for the guest house tenant's huge bed and huge dog, but the grand ocean view makes the living area seem bigger than it is. A tiny kitchen and bathroom are wedged into the sides of the cylinder. On the ground is a two-car garage, which houses all the systems for the guest house, including a separate furnace, a water heater and a washer and dryer laundry station. The guest house has its own sense of privacy as the main house is totally hidden from view.

When Meier passed away several years ago, she left the property to the UCLA Foundation. Recently, the foundation sold the Malibu property in only 14 days for $1.5 million, according to Tidemark Properties sale broker Joseph Rohn.

A 400-Square-Foot Yurt With French Doors

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