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A boxy stucco eyesore in Carpinteria is transformed into a modern, spacious charmer

'It was one of the ugliest houses I've ever seen,' designer says.

July 16, 2011|By Lisa Boone, Los Angeles Times
  • Today, the house has the form of a contemporary Spanish retreat with a new stucco exterior painted a deep bronze and a fresh clay tile roof.
Today, the house has the form of a contemporary Spanish retreat with a new… (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles…)

When Amy Lippman first called her architect about renovating a Carpinteria beach house she had just bought, she tried to find humor in the design challenge ahead by asking: "Do you want to work on a Taco Bell?"

The house wasn't really a fast-food drive-through, of course, but a 1977 stucco box with unfortunate architectural flourishes. Lippman's husband, Rodman Flender, thought she was nuts. After viewing the property for the first time, Los Angeles architect Rachel Allen had to agree with her client's initial assessment.

"It was one of the ugliest houses I've ever seen," Allen says, recalling kitschy porthole windows and a "hideous" stucco job. But she also saw beyond the facade.

"As an architect, I have a soft spot for helping out troubled properties," Allen says. "The house was so bad, we actually got turned on by the challenge in making it sing."

The dark, somber "hobbit house with low ceilings" was worth the effort principally because of its location. For Lippman, a writer and producer for TV and film, and Flender, a filmmaker, the beach house was to be a family retreat — 200 steps from a pristine stretch of Carpinteria State Beach and a 71-minute drive from their house on the Westside of L.A.

The couple chose to remodel the nearly 3,000-square-foot home in two phases over four years. They began by tearing out a strange mishmash of fences, installing a new perimeter and moving the garage to open up the yard.

During the second phase, the house was gutted. On the first floor, the low ceiling was raised to make dark interiors open and airy. A stairway by the entry was moved to the rear of the house, so sunlight and ocean breezes could flow in through the front. Upstairs, where the stairwell used to be, Allen added a casual library for weekend guests.

Because access to and from the beach was important, custom built aluminum doors that combine glass and screens were added to enhance the home' s breezy, indoor-outdoor feel.

Lippman says the home's design sensibility was clear: "I wanted things to be weird and funny. Not somber or grownup."

Client and architect incorporated traditional elements in unexpected ways. The home's unconventional choices are immediately apparent as soon as one enters the house: The entire first floor is covered in pebble flooring, tiny sand-colored rocks sealed with resin. The family loves it because it hides dirt and sand and feels great on bare feet. "It essentially is the sand," Flender says.

Upstairs, an oversized clock and an anatomical sketch in the kitchen add to the sense of fun that permeates the getaway. In the living area, colorful thrift store paintings are arranged against museum-white walls. Other playful touches: a dining room table covered in canvas and finished in nail heads, and outside, a retractable awning that can provide shade for two dining room tables pushed together — another communal gathering place.

The couple even considered a periscope. "I like the idea of it," Lippman says thoughtfully, clearly not letting go of the concept.

In son Haskell's room, custom built double bunk beds are a playful nod to Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner, which passes by across the street. Like sleeper compartments on trains, each bunk comes with an electrical outlet and a reading light.

"I liked the idea that you can close the curtains and read," says Allen who designed the bunks to accommodate friends of Haskell, 14. Both sets of bunk beds have trundles underneath, so the room actually can sleep six.

The adjacent communal bathroom was designed with the YMCA in mind: double sinks, twin stall showers, plus direct access from the beach. Allen created a pretty pale blue cast by pairing white tile from Ann Sacks with light blue grout.

The rest of the house is furnished with simple slipcovered and upholstered furnishings and inexpensive IKEA accessories, accented by flea market finds that Lippman has collected over the years. In Haskell's room, Japanese chairs bought off Craigslist are scattered around an Eames elliptical coffee table. Flash cards from the 1950s spelling "oy" and "your tonsils" add humor and a bold graphic touch to the sunny entryway. In the guest room, a pair of red Eames chairs and a vintage map of the U.S. add more bursts of color.

"Amy has an incredible eye. She is like the Terminator: She can go to a junkyard and zero in on a unique artwork, a doorknob," Flender says, adding later, "She's got the eye to find that one thing."

The home's sense of humor continues outdoors, where a concrete diving board is a metaphorical jumping-off point into a grassy amphitheater, a place for outdoor movie screenings. And the family refers to the angel's trumpet vine growing on the front of the house as its moustache.

With the help of landscape architect Derrik Eichelberger of Arcadia Studio in Santa Barbara, the family now can spend much of its time on a back deck with a custom couch covered in bright green Sunbrella fabric. Here, up to 12 people can put up their feet on the concrete fire pit that does double duty as a casual dining table.

The house may be loaded with features and decorated with objects and art, but it was left intentionally spare to a certain extent.

"It has the convenience of a full home without being stacked with possessions," Lippman says."That's kind of a relief."

Though the couple talk of living in their second home full time, Lippman is honest about what makes the house work, beyond its design. "It's special because we don't live here full time," she says. "There is such an appeal in going somewhere close. Once Highway 101 hits the water, I feel the weight lift off my shoulders."

lisa.boone@latimes.com

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