When Los Angeles architect Warren Techentin and his wife Mimi were looking for a property to renovate and call home on the east side of the city, one in particular stood out, but not for its looks.
“Anything but that one,” Mimi recalled telling her husband when considering a shabby, generic one-story stucco house with a pitched roof on top of a garage in Los Feliz.
Yet shortly after the discussion, Techentin—encouraged by the house’s potential for total transformation and its low price, went forward with an extensive renovation that merges old and new, creates airy and textured spaces, and takes advantage of the lovely, tree-rich setting. The house has been converted from what Techentin called a “developer’s special” into a one-of-a-kind, contemporary gem.
Approaching the 3,000-square-foot house from the road, you quickly notice that it isn’t like the others in its leafy neighborhood. Sitting high above the street, the (now) two-story building looks as if it’s in the trees. The facade is a combination of vertical and horizontal windows, with redwood boards forming a rain screen over the concrete and wood structure. Dark and light surfaces, and flush and cantilevered cubes and planes, provide a staccato layering echoed throughout the project. One also spies remnants from the original house, including a classic 1950s garage door, and the shingled roof, which, now flattened at its height and topped with rectilinear structures, adds up to an unexpected mix of style, scale, and skew.
On the inside, Techentin opened up the once jumbled house by removing walls and raising ceiling heights where possible, and by adding new spaces on the first floor; the second floor is all new. Rooms to the east have been combined into a spacious great room containing the entry, dining room, and living room. “Essentially, this little land-locked room became a centralizing force to the plan, and all of a sudden, everything started to flow through it,” said Techentin. Formerly cramped spaces like the kitchen and dining room have become media and storage rooms. The ultra-tall new hallway in the house’s center brings in copious light and affords glimpses into most corners of the building. That space, lined with blue MDF bookshelves and an attention-grabbing chandelier, is the heart of the house. Not far behind is the voluminous new kitchen, lined with translucent Polygal, creating an intricate pattern of light and dark thanks to the steel structure behind it.
Unorthodox moves help the space feel even larger and more distinctive, bringing the picturesque neighborhood inside. A large horizontal window at the end of the great room with a wide window seat cantilevers slightly off the foundation, but feels like it’s projecting much further. Most rooms are designed to look at the surrounding trees, whose names—liquidambar, Canary Island palm, jacaranda—the architect happily rattles off by heart. The haute-contemporary wallpaper depicts lifelike trees and plants. And upstairs, where the couple built a study, master bedroom, and future nursery, an uneven series of planes, bright colors, and rough materials like plywood and poplar throw formality out the window in favor of character.
Meanwhile, Techentin’s interior decoration is enhanced through his artistic friends’ contributions. Roy McMakin designed the dining room table and chairs. Pae White remade the hall’s chandelier from another work. And An Te Liu designed a sculpture in the living room called Exchange Column, made of stacked air fresheners. Out back, Techentin built a modern steel, glass, and wood fence around a concrete courtyard and raised pool. More ambitious plans are on the boards, like a fire pit. Indeed, the architect’s faraway look when he surveys the area suggests it won’t be long until he’s back at transforming things.