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Out of the Box

A Traditional Pasadena Craftsman Home Gets an Angular 21st Century Addition


Bicoastal architectural designer Joseph Giovannini was having a perfectly pleasant conversation with a woman behind the counter at the Planning Department's Design and Historic Preservation window in Pasadena, until he rolled out the plans for his modern addition to a 1907 Craftsman bungalow. "She suddenly pursed her lips and said, 'Oh my, this is radical,' " he recalls. Luckily on a later try, a more open-minded member of the review board, who had an appreciation for Modernism, saw integrity in the addition and approved the project.

The idea for the 250-square-foot addition was the result of dinner-party banter in 1999. Giovannini, former architecture critic for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, and Caltech professor emeritus and best-selling author Dan Kevles were chatting about the latter's plans to remodel his Pasadena Craftsman home. "I'd always wanted a modern study with lots of light and glass overlooking a garden," says Kevles.

To Giovannini, the project presented an interesting challenge. The home's previous 1977 addition--a guest bedroom/den--had maxed out the floor space permitted by the city. "We weren't allowed to add a millimeter of footage," says the designer. Giovannini, along with Kevles and wife Bettyann, decided to transform the guest bedroom/den space off the kitchen into a light-filled office and sitting area.

"The only way I could make a difference was to add volume and essentially explode the box," says Giovannini, who raised the 8 1/2-foot ceiling up to a lofty 17 feet, adding a canted roof with tilted clerestory windows. The effect is of a futuristic sunroom. "The roof doesn't coincide with the floor plan . . . it's angled off. At the north side of the room you look up toward the sky. It's as though I shaved off the roof. I wanted to break up the box and spin you into the yard and the sky." A slender triangular window inches above the floor features a view of the couple's cactus garden. An upstairs window looking out from the original structure's sun porch (now used by Bettyann as an office area) allows her to play Juliet to Kevles' Romeo below.

To keep the room from getting too much light, Giovannini's roof acts as a tilted parasol, letting in soft northern light on one side while shading it from the harsh southern exposure on the other. To integrate the two structures, the designer copied the bungalow's asphalt shingles on the new roof, while existing side shingles, salvaged from the former addition, wrap around a corner of the new study. The addition's steel frame, painted a deep gun-metal gray, complements the Craftsman's original grayish-green exterior.

Custom-designed steel-and-glass doors pivot open to the garden, continuing the indoor/outdoor atmosphere. "I feel I'm always outside even though I'm inside," says Kevles. "I'm close to nature and close to my word processor at the same time."

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