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Brut on the Boulevard
House of the Issue> Dennis Gibbens
The exterior of the Gibbens House makes a bold statement on Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
Benny Chan

Architect Dennis Gibbens has created a home for himself that is the closest thing to a nest that one could ever find on Venice’s swank and hectic Abbot Kinney Boulevard. The project, located on the second and third floors over a Japanese housewares shop, is part of a mixed- use project. Once you walk upstairs from the hubbub of the road, the board-formed, poured-in-place concrete walls provide a textured and substantial shell surrounding a more refined palette of lacquers, stones, mirrored glass, smooth-troweled stucco, terrazzo, and polished metal.

The house is a mix of refined and rough materials.
Elements of the house, such as the curve of a stairwell, are expressed in the store below.

“I’ve created my own private bunker up here,” said Gibbens. Bunker hardly seems the word for this sophisticated lair. Viewed from the outside, the home’s juxtaposition of rough and smooth is hinted at in a facade of alternating gray concrete and white plaster. Inside, the U-shaped second-floor space—which includes a kitchen, sitting room, dining room, and living room—is divided by a glass-enclosed entrance courtyard that cuts into the middle, drawing light and air into all corners.

The finishes are at once simple, artful, and elegant: a balancing act of the serenely austere and the dynamically modern. Gibbens designed much of the furniture in the formal living room, including a movie screen that the architect made from honeycomb laminate cut in an off-kilter shape reminiscent of Googie modernism. Much of the other furniture was found in some of the top-tier furniture stores on Abbot Kinney itself. A cutout terrace off the living room opens the cloistered space to the street, if so desired. And most of the utilitarian functions of this floor—closets, a bathroom— are bunched on the south side, leaving the space remarkably uncluttered.

Upstairs rooms continue to offset careful restraint with strategic “wows”: a square skylight in the master bedroom that looks like a James Turrell skyspace, a glass floor in the hall that looks down to the living room, glass walls in the guest room that suggest a boutique hotel, and of course a roof deck, where the walls are high enough to provide privacy but low enough to be open to the sky, the surrounding palm trees, and the lovely sunsets.

The 29-foot-wide house, at about 3,500 square feet, was a labor of love for Gibbens, who was general contractor for much of the work himself to preserve details and save money. The entire ground floor is a mat foundation, a two-foot-thick pad of concrete. Throughout the building, several steel moment frames, relatively disguised, help support the structure, accompanying a more conventional wood frame. Gibbens said the most challenging part, besides getting the eclectic elements to come together as a whole and casting exposed concrete for the first time, was pouring that concrete so close to adjacent buildings, and calling for a tight gap to complete any form work.

“It was more gratifying than nerve-racking,” said Gibbens, of the construction. “It’s fun. I like the construction process.” And, he added, “I was getting exactly what I wanted.”

Sam Lubell