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A house turned inside out

February 15, 2007|Morris Newman | Special to The Times

CARMEN ROGERS found her new home almost by accident a couple years ago while flipping through the pages of a magazine at the supermarket checkout line. There it was photographed on a steep hillside in Montecito, the home that architect Barton Myers built for himself and his wife in 1998.

Divided into three separate structures, the steel-and-glass house is uncompromisingly industrial in style yet is still in harmony with the unspoiled, oak-filled hillside.

Carmen and her husband, Rick, knew this was the home they wanted, but they didn't know if it could be adapted for a corner lot on a busy Westside street.

They contacted Myers, who was intrigued by the challenge. Could the new house retain the qualities the couple most admired in his home, particularly the sense of openness to landscape, in a single-family neighborhood, near Olympic Boulevard?

Myers had been toying with the idea of designing a series of houses, each repeating a few signature elements: steel frame, floor-to-ceiling windows and roll-up doors. These projects -- and the Rogerses' home in particular -- would explore steel home construction and test the idea that the hard-edged design of his Montecito house could fit any location.

The newly finished Rogers house resembles the Myers house in some ways but is anything but a replica. The individual pavilions of the Montecito house march straight down the hill like stair steps. The Rogerses' house, in contrast, sits on a flat double lot on a busy Westside corner and is built around in a "classic Los Angeles courtyard," Myers says.

THE architect formed the courtyard by arranging three separate, steel-framed structures in a "U" shape around a long, narrow courtyard. Two of the buildings have roll-up doors filled with windows. (The architect calls them "roll-up curtain walls.") The more conventional walls have rows of clerestory windows along the roof line to maximize natural light.

At the center is the main house, with a large living-dining room with 16-foot ceilings facing south, while a guest house faces west. On the opposite end is Rick's home office and pool parlor.

The most dramatic moment occurs when doors on the main house roll up out of sight, literally opening to the courtyard. In this configuration, the house looks almost as if no walls ever existed between indoors and outdoors, much as those walls seem to disappear at Myers' Montecito house.

For the Rogerses, their new house is the culmination of the couple's personal passion for architecture and design. After serving as a young actor in television and several beach-party movies of the 1960s, Rick transitioned into fashion design, creating beaded denim garments. He also logged five years at UCLA's interior design program. Carmen Rogers is an interior designer who recently spent three years refurbishing a hotel in Park City, Utah, where the couple have a second home.

The main building, with living room, dining room, kitchen and two bedrooms, has been sparely furnished with carefully chosen Modernist furniture, much of it chosen by Carmen. Few possessions are on view beyond some small paintings, books and a remarkable wood-burning stove in the shape of a gorilla that the Rogerses bought in France many years ago.

His respect for Myers' architecture was great enough, Rick said, that he was willing to part with rare furniture and other belongings he thought incompatible with the spare, steel-framed house. "We got rid of a lot of things we didn't want to get rid of," he says, "but the idea of insulting the integrity of that architecture is not worth it to me."

Rick found he had to make other compromises as well. He was ambivalent at first about having a roll-up door on his pool room, which he prefers dark, to avoid glare. To accommodate him, the architect provided a dark, roll-down screen to shade the room from the window-filled doors. Rick, an expert pool player, has filled a basement room next to a wine cellar with his cherished collection of inlaid pool cues. (He calls the room "the cue-midor.")

A lap pool of black-tinted concrete runs along the foot of a wall that separates the courtyard from the street and serves as a reflecting pool when not in use. Like a fountain, the water spills continuously from the pool into an outer trough, and the sound of water helps to shield the courtyard from the sound of intense traffic during rush hour.

One section of the wall is made of poured-in-place concrete, a material strong enough to support a massive, folded-steel, white-painted sculpture by artist Betty Gold. Attached to the wall by thick, horizontal bolts is the steel artwork, which "weighs as much as a Mini-Cooper," according to architect Thomas Schneider, who served as Myers' project architect and chief assistant on the Rogerses' home.

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