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DESIGN : HOME OF THE TIMES : Fresh start

November 14, 2009|Lisa Boone

When architect Aaron Neubert scoured Silver Lake looking for the right spot to build a contemporary family home, he found it in a dilapidated Spanish tract house that his wife initially rejected.

"She actually said, 'There is no way in hell I'm living there,' " Neubert says with a laugh.

But the architect was so captivated by the 7,500-square-foot lot that he persevered, persuading his wife to change her mind. Acting as your own architect can be a conflicted process, he says, but his goal remained consistent: creating an open living environment that connected to the outdoors at every opportunity.

Neubert's intent was to rebuild around the original Spanish-style house, but when workers began to take down parts of the structure in preparation for an add-on, walls simply collapsed. "There was nothing to hold the house up," Neubert says. After many setbacks -- including the need for new framing and foundation work -- Neubert started from scratch. Over two years, and while juggling work for clients, he constructed an open yet cozy family home in which every room is connected to the landscape outside. "This whole thing," says the father of 4-year-old Penn and 7-year-old Quinn, "was for the kids."

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Some inspired ideas

Pocket sliders: Sliding pocket doors are pricey, but they can make rooms feel bigger. Instead of the aluminum-framed doors seen so often in modern homes, architect Aaron Neubert went with wood-framed models that disappear into the wall, erasing the divide between living room and backyard.

Wood frame: To cut costs, Neubert minimized the footprint of the building to save on foundation expenses. He also went with all-wood structural design. By not using steel beams, he saved "a ton" on structural costs, he says.

Cement board: For the exterior, Neubert skipped stucco and used fiber cement board that has a transparent stain in lieu of paint. "Theoretically it will not require maintenance, which painting would," he says. Another benefit: The stain changes with the sun and color of the sky, allowing it to shift from black to purple to blue to green.

Salvaged wood: Neubert salvaged all of the 1920s framing lumber from the old house and repurposed it as hardwood edges for cabinetry, the basement office wall and the construction of the kids' art studio in the backyard. "Instant patina," he says.

Recycled concrete: Neubert recycled his old concrete patio, as well as his neighbor's, to build garden walls and planters. "I actually traded our old brick for their concrete at one point," he says. Neubert is big on trades: He got an electrician to work in exchange for the old ceramic roof tiles on Neubert's old house.

Less distraction: A new power pole in the rear corner of the lot keeps wires from hanging over the house and yard. All lines run underground from the pole to the house.

-- Lisa Boone

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