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A Space Apart

A home office inspired by a treehouse is a refuge for patients and therapist

October 30, 2005|Susan Freudenheim

The hazards of working at home--ringing doorbells, yapping dogs and bingeing at the fridge--were taken out of the equation when architect Stephen Kanner designed an idyllic backyard office for a Westside psychologist.

Set at the rear of Joan Willens' property and echoing a rickety kids' treehouse next door, the free-standing cedar-sided structure blends naturally into the lush surrounding vegetation. The office is close enough to the main residence for midday breaks yet removed from the distractions of daily life, an inviting sanctuary with a spa-like aura that suggests solace and solitude.

Indeed, Willens, a clinical psychologist, required a peaceful environment and privacy to do her work, and those needs were fulfilled by the structure created by Kanner, head of Kanner Architects and president of the L.A. chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

The uplifting quality of Willens' office space, the cumulative result of numerous architectural elements both subtle and grand, may enhance the patients' therapeutic experience and certainly improves the workday life of the therapist. Views are directed toward the sky, and ceilings tilt up, enhancing the almost spiritual feeling of the rooms. Light spills through clerestory windows, and clutter is confined to ample vertical-grain Douglas fir cabinetry. In the simple tradition of Modernist design, the 650-square-foot building establishes a transcendent space yet steps out of the limelight.

The building sits on what once was a rarely used patio on a steep hillside at the east end of the property. To suit Willens' practice, the office has two entrances: one on the north side for her, reached by a walkway from the house, and the other on the south side for patients. Built for the project, this walk steps down from the street to cross the backyard and then up again, in a switchback pattern, to the patients' doorway. All materials are natural and devoid of artificial color, from the pavement to the building's clear-sealed exterior.

"We tend to use a lot of color, a lot of texture," Kanner says of his firm, which is known for commercial projects that include an In-N-Out Burger prototype and Puma stores as well as colorful multifamily housing projects that include the Mondrian-esque Metro Hollywood Apartments. "In this case, we wanted it to be calmer."

The office includes a waiting room just off the front hall designed so that patients don't encounter each other while entering or exiting. Beyond is a large bathroom, a hallway that serves as a kitchenette and an expansive office with hidden storage for patients' files and room for both individual and group seating. Unadorned white walls reach up to wood-beamed Douglas fir ceilings, while maple floors and classic Modernist furnishings provide a neutral environment that highlights the views of trees and sky. Nearby residences aren't visible from the office, and on a recent afternoon the only sounds were birds singing.

"Most of us spend our lives stuck in office buildings in an enclosed space that you had to fight traffic to get to," says Willens. "I think this kind of environment can't help but affect my internal life, as well as my patients'. "


RESOURCE GUIDE: Kanner Architects, Westwood, (310) 208-0028,

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