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Curve Appeal

Fluid Lines Define a Light and Airy Beverly Hills House

March 04, 2001|MICHAEL WEBB | Michael Webb last wrote for the magazine on a music room designed by R.M. Schindler for a Silver Lake home

On a quiet Beverly Hills street lined with traditional cottages, there is a corner house that pulls off the tricky feat of standing out and fitting in at the same time. Crisp white walls swell out toward the street while a gray metal roof arches over the living areas in concert with the scale of the neighbors' dwellings. Unshaded windows offer tantalizing glimpses of spaces inside but are placed high enough to protect the owners' privacy. Expanses of stucco are relieved by the spiky plantings of landscape designer Judy Farber.

After spending half their lives in an aging house nearby, the owners decided it was time for a fresh start. However, the wife had vowed they would "never, never" commission a ground-up house, following the nightmare of her parents' experience in doing so. Then she saw the new offices of Acorn Paper--her husband's packaging firm--which Santa Monica-based architect Hagy Belzberg had created in an East Los Angeles warehouse, and she changed her mind. "It's wonderful," she says. "I could imagine living in a space like this [warehouse]." The couple abandoned their search for a condo and went looking for a teardown.

They eventually found a lot zoned for 4,600 square feet of enclosed space, but the couple decided that 3,600 would not only give them all the room they needed but also achieve a more graceful profile. They had two priorities for Belzberg: put the master suite on the ground floor and avoid a boxy look. "I like curves," says the wife, "and that's what I got. The computer rendering looked like a spaceship traveling at warp speed. During construction, neighbors would call up and say, 'Are you aware that the beams aren't straight?' " She knew very well, because she was on site every day. "Each step was exciting," she recalls, "and it took only 14 months from groundbreaking to the day we moved in."

Belzberg created three zones. Bordering the street to the north is the master suite, its bathroom opening onto a terrace with a short lap pool. Garage, kitchen and eating areas range along the south side. Above them, on a partial second floor, are a guest bedroom, an office and a gym. Sandwiched between the north and the south zones of the house is the gracefully curved living room. It extends from the study next to the entry on the eastern side of the house to the rear garden on the west. On the architectural plan, one can see how these sections are as tightly locked together as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and the lazy "S" of the wall that divides living from sleeping areas gives a distinctive character to both.

From the low portal of the entrance one steps into the soaring, light-filled living room, which is lit by windows at either end of the room and beneath the arched ceiling vault. The clerestory reveals a strip of sky and the branches of a magnolia, and the double glazing shuts out the sounds of traffic. The living room also offers a view of the jutting walls and floors of the upstairs rooms. Their angles complement the sculptural hearth below. The dining area can be left completely open, creating an uninterrupted flow of space from the kitchen/breakfast area to the living room to the garden terrace. For formal entertaining or greater intimacy, wood-framed panels of sandblasted glass that resemble Japanese shoji screens slide out to create a more cloistered dining space.

Interior designer Milo Baglioni, who has collaborated with Belzberg on three of his projects, decorated the house and designed much of the furniture. "For the owners, the priorities were music and art," he explains, "and that shaped everything I did. The piano is her most precious possession, and she wanted a place where she could play and share her pleasure with guests, besides doing a lot of entertaining." He designed comfortable chairs and sofas to complement a few pieces the clients had brought with them, and grouped these around the piano and hearth. A sophisticated speaker system carries music to every part of the house.

Belzberg and Baglioni chose a muted palette to set off the owners' art collection, which includes boldly colored paintings by Roy Lichtenstein and Sam Francis, as well as subtle works on paper. Maple is used throughout--straight-grain on the floor and bird's-eye for the built-in cabinets and dining room tables. Putty and beige walls and fabrics, including an area rug that suggests raked sand, are enlivened with soft tones of blue and green. This is a house in which the decor subtly enhances the architecture without ever competing with it.

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