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Minimalist remodel

An architect reinvents her home, adding just 500 square feet and a few natural materials.

December 27, 2007|Morris Newman | Special to The Times

ALLA KAZOVSKY did not take the gut-and-rebuild approach in renovating her modest, ranch-style house in the Hollywood Hills. With the exception of a new aboveground lap pool in front, the 70-year-old dwelling looks much as it did before -- an unprepossessing wood-and-stucco structure set behind a rose garden. So, what was remodeled?

Kindly step inside. Without denaturing the old house, the USC-trained architect reinvented the structure completely. Kazovsky stripped the old ranch to its structural bones, creating warmth with brick and exposed wood beams, while adding new details throughout in steel and concrete.

Only 500 square feet were added to the footprint of the house, primarily in an underground sauna, bath and laundry. The change is really in the carefully considered details, including a dozen new pieces of steel furniture, hard-edged and minimalist, of Kazovsky's own design.

The original house and the austere new additions live together compatibly. Much of that peaceful co-existence of old and new is due to the palette of materials.

"She made a very interesting choice to use only a few materials, and only natural materials, like brick and limestone and the hardwoods," says Marina Mizruh, an interior designer and friend of Kazovsky's who watched the redesign process.

The architect also simplified and opened the floor plan and created an intimate backyard patio where only dirt existed before, building a short retaining wall and covering the ground in slate.

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KAZOVSKY'S husband, internist Dr. Alexander Popov, initially expressed doubts about the livability of the home four years ago, before the couple closed escrow on the 2,300-square-foot, three-bedroom house in Nichols Canyon.

"It was too dark," Popov says. "I wasn't sure we should buy this house." Indeed, the dilapidated structure stood behind a 50-foot-deep tangle of rose bushes. Instead of a backyard, a near-vertical hill bare of vegetation loomed near the back of the house.

Kazovsky's reaction was completely different than her husband's.

"I fell in love with the house the first time I saw it," she says with a trace of a Russian accent, left over from her childhood in St. Petersburg. Part of the charm, she says, was the 122 rose bushes in front. More important: She had a vision of how the completed house would look, and . . .

"I got a very good price," she says.

The concrete guard gate at the front of the house is the first sign of Kazovsky's tough-minded modernism. The gate opens, however, to a more traditional view of a garden and the original front porch. The big change is the elevated lap pool on the left, connected to the house by a slate walkway. The new sauna, bath and laundry area are hidden underground, beneath the path.

An outdoor dining area is the first glimpse of Kazovsky's ingenuity in steel furniture design. The area is defined by a row of steel tubes, each bent into the shape of an upside-down J and equipped with a light bulb on the end.

Walk into the living room, and first impressions are dominated by the exposed brick and ceiling beams. Kazovsky's white-painted steel furnishings add vertical accents to the horizontal rhythms of the masonry walls. "It's become a very comfortable place to sit and read," Popov says.

Perhaps the biggest transition from old to new occurs when visitors move from the living room into the kitchen-dining-sitting room area. In its prior form, this space had been an awkward addition created by a previous owner. Kazovsky reshaped the kitchen, sacrificing a pantry closet to enlarge a master bath that lies on the other side of the kitchen wall.

By rearranging the kitchen, she was able to make room for an intimate dining area. When the brick walls made rewiring the house difficult, Kazovsky's solution was to run electrical conduits through a new, free-standing white column, which also helps to define one side of the dining room and ingeniously hosts shelves for glassware and pottery inside.

In another bold and simple stroke, Kazovsky added an orange-painted steel beam beneath an existing wooden beam in her design studio, remodeled from a former garage. "Orange is my trademark color," she says.

The architect describes the house as her personal laboratory for working with materials that are new to her, including concrete and the subtleties of pool plumbing. At the same time, the house is not a formalist showplace but a comfortable, unpretentious home where the artwork of two teenage daughters is prominent throughout. The wall of the elevated lap pool features a mosaic based on a drawing by daughter Mia.

"The house is comfortable, casual and accessible," Mizruh says, "yet it's also intelligent."

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home@latimes.com

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