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Beyond luxury

November 17, 2005|Craig Nakano; Nancy Yoshihara

Art/Invention/House

Michael Webb

Rizzoli New York, $75

Architectural gems often challenge conventional design and present feats of engineering that sometimes annoy neighbors. But a house of such extraordinariness enchants the eye, whether the structure is a 2,400-square-foot home in Venice, Calif., or an 8,000-square-foot one surrounded by two concrete ellipses in Miravalle, Ecuador.

These examples are among the 40 recently completed dwellings that are skillfully and concisely profiled by Webb, an architecture critic and writer.

"An architect-designed house is always an exception to the norm, and many of these examples are costly treasures, but the goal is excellence, not ostentation," Webb writes in the introduction. "Most 'luxury homes' are tract houses on steroids: dumb boxes with pretentious historicist trapping that strive to impress and to be 'contextual,' but fail on both counts."

With each house in the book, Webb provides lessons in art, experimentation and creativity, explaining how each architect superbly blended form and function to reflect the client's tastes, needs and location. Once a reader gets over an initial "wow" response to each exquisitely photographed house, simple layouts provide more details. The book includes California homes in Pacific Palisades, Big Sur, Marin County and the nearby Alexander Valley. The only thing missing is some hint of the cost of these jewels.

-- Nancy Yoshihara

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At your fingertips

Master Gardeners Online

University of California, Cooperative Extension

www.mastergardeners.org

Perplexed by a garden problem? Dial up or e-mail a master gardener for some advice.

Your question will be researched by a volunteer, a UC-certified master gardener who has completed 50 hours of horticulture training. The program, started in the 1980s, is funded by the University of California's Agriculture and Natural Resources division and delivered through county Cooperative Extension offices.

Counties offering the Q&A service are listed on this website, which provides links. Because the counties operate independently, their individual websites vary quite a bit. Los Angeles County, for example, emphasizes its Common Ground Garden Program aimed at helping low-income residents learn about growing food and handling and preserving food safely. Orange County, in contrast, is loaded with master gardener services, hot topics such as troublesome insects and informational gardening brochures.

But all the listed counties provide phone numbers and e-mail addresses to send questions to a master gardener or both. Inquiries can be left around the clock.

-- Nancy Yoshihara

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Space savers

Living Big in Small Apartments

James Grayson Trulove

Harper Design, $35

The most difficult problems can inspire smart solutions -- a phenomenon clearly at work in the 18 apartments profiled in this book, a 191-page collection of beautiful photos detailing how space-starved studios were transformed into homes of style and comfort.

Make no mistake: These apartments are not $900-a-month rentals but rather top-notch New York co-ops, remodeled with architects' assistance and decorated with a professional eye. Few readers may be able to afford similar makeovers, and the trendy, modern style employed by many of the homeowners may not be everyone's cup of chai.

The book's value comes in illustrating space-conscious designs that are universal -- creative solutions that could be as relevant to a Santa Monica condo, an Echo Park cottage or a Long Beach loft as they are to a Manhattan pied-a-terre. We see apartments tricked out with pivoting walls made of glass (to divide rooms without blocking natural light), media units that double as room separators (so storage serves dual purposes), cove lighting (to make narrow hallways appear wider), Murphy beds (they're back) and bookcases and kitchen storage units on casters (so rooms can be reconfigured for different uses). Inspiration comes in large doses. Now if only the designers' spare, minimalist styles were more varied, reflecting a wider range of tastes, this book would be the perfect prescription for California's diverse, space-starved residents.

-- Craig Nakano

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