Difficult constraints require creative solutions. Perhaps the perfect case study for this age-old maxim is Simon Storey and Anonymous Architects’ Eel’s Nest in Echo Park.
The tall, narrow townhome, located on the corner of a winding street near the neighborhood’s commercial center, is built on a 15-foot-wide lot, with a 780-square-foot footprint.
In response to this impossibly tight site, Storey took borrowing space to the next level, almost bringing the whole neighborhood inside.
The house is located on the site of a shabby 350-square-foot home that Storey himself briefly inhabited before tearing down. He kept the garage intact (strengthening it with poured-in-place concrete) and put in new footings, above which he built what he calls a vertical extrusion of the landscape, with living space sandwiched between. When you look up, the roof terrace sprouts with trees and plants. Floating above a void-like black building, it almost looks as if the ground were lofted above the block.
Inside, the small house never feels cramped, thanks to several creative solutions: an open plan and terraced back garden on the first floor; a sense of movement and anticipation through compartmentalized floor plans and skylights on the second; and, the most important feature of all, gigantic windows on both floors that cover almost the entire expanse of wall. The siting of the house is such that you appear to be floating over the street itself, watching cars move straight toward you. It’s a view that I’ve only seen once before, in New York City at the High Line, where a seating section drops below the rails in the middle of 10th Avenue.
Does this extreme openness make Storey feel as if he’s living in a fishbowl? The architect said he doesn’t mind. He said he likes his neighbors, and that lifting the blinds two feet gives him almost complete privacy when he needs it.
From the roof terrace, you get a full sense of the neighborhood and beyond with a panoramic view of Echo Park and the Santa Monica Mountains all the way to the San Gabriels. Made of simple framing lumber set with modest but elegant benches, the terrace makes you feel as though you’re on top of some sort of architectural mountaintop.
“It’s all about the house in relation to its surroundings,” said Storey.