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Clementi/Smith-Clementi Residence
Undine Prohl

Walking through the streets of Venice, it is fun to explore how home styles have evolved over the years, from rough-around-the-edges bungalows to understated modern, unusual post modern, and sleek contemporary concoctions. The home of architects Frank Clementi and Julie Smith-Clementi, located on one of the area’s lovely walk streets, showcases several of these changes under a single roof.

The Clementis, who are principals at local firm Rios Clementi Hale Studios, began work on the house in 1996, converting the small, dilapidated 1920s shack into a light-filled, modern, two-story edifice with a butterfly roof. The project was brought to life through creative uses of inexpensive materials, like angular lap siding, reclaimed maple boards, discontinued tile, patterned plastic laminate, and folded dark metal.


Time marched on, and the couple recently finished an addition that includes renovations and updates to the existing house, a new garage and master bedroom, and a 3,400-square-foot garden, which the couple now shares with Julie’s mother, who bought the house next door.

The oasis-like yard is a stunner, with new planters, lines of garden vegetables, a wide selection of flowering plants, and a massive magnolia tree that serves as the centerpiece. Clementi calls the tree the property’s “unspoken hero.” So the first step in the renovation was to better connect the home to the outdoor space. The architects installed new sliding glass doors, window walls, and (second story) clerestories, and enhanced diagonal view corridors and the sense of openness. The couple moved and opened the kitchen to the rear deck, fitting it with a built-in banquette and with sleek white cabinetry.


The biggest change was the addition of a new back structure, which stands out the second you approach the home. On its first floor is a masonry garage. The bedroom space above in every way feels like a tree house. On the exterior a jagged arrangement of 4-by-12 Douglas Fir planks are imbedded into the CMU to form a sculptural skin that supports the weight of the ceiling above and provides seismic resistance.

“Once we were about hiding the structure; now we’re about exposing it,” said Frank Clementi of his different approaches to the home over the years. “It’s now about honesty, not slight of hand.”


The look of this composition has been nicknamed “French fries” and the “wood basket” by neighbors, who at first seemed worried about the plans but now have come around, said Clementi. The wood planks and the tree house feel were loosely inspired by that “hero” tree in the yard, which is clearly visible from up there.

Inside, the room is clad in plywood, including a 7-foot-tall plywood headboard, and it has a cork floor and Douglas Fir window frames. The tall wood exterior planks provide privacy, but also let in natural light and air. Window walls and sliding glass doors bring in more, particularly from the room’s outdoor balcony. The space also contains walk in closets, a bathroom, a hanging fireplace, and hanging wood bookshelves. Connecting this structure to the main house is a bridge containing a bedroom and an open family room, adding to the sense of flow throughout the house.

A lot of the subsequent changes to the house, said Clementi, came not just from moving away from modernism (a process he calls “urban natural selection”), but from living at the house and “figuring out what was happening.” He added, “You really get an undeniable sense of what the site is and community is. We were lucky.”

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RNLA Homes
The houses are designed to generate 95 percent of their electricity needs on site.
Art Gray

Every day, non-profit Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles (RNLA) deals with down-and-out homes. They purchase foreclosed or abandoned properties, fix them up cost-effectively and put them on the market at a price low- and medium-income household can afford.

Recently, RNLA decided to do something different with three of its 15 current properties. “We wanted to build hyper-efficient, net-zero homes in South Los Angeles,” said John Perfitt, RNLA Executive Director.

A team made up of Santa Monica architecture firm Minarc and housing organization Habitat for Humanity (HfH) was chosen to design the homes, none of which cost more than $130 per square foot. The residences were finished on July 13. Minarc’s construction system makes use of factory-manufactured expanded polystyrene foam panels cut to size, which are then transported on flatbed trucks to the construction site. A crew then slots these panels into a recycled steel frame. Construction can take as little as three days. It is a method that has been used on multimillion-dollar commissions; the price difference lies in the material finishes.


The system has been in development for eight years and has been accepted by the building and safety departments in Santa Monica and Los Angeles. This prior approval helped the team smooth over any potential delays in building that would have cost RNLA time and money. All three homes use the same number of panels, but are configured in different ways, like taking the same Lego blocks and re-arranging them. Minarc adjusted the design and orientation depending on site demands. Speaking about the process, Minarc principal Tryggvi Thorsteinsson said, “80 percent of it is the system, but 20 percent of it is custom.”


Each home is an approximately 1,200-square-foot, single-story cubist dwelling finished with cement fiberboard siding and interrupted by elongated windows. “There is an interplay of the void and solid in our design,” said Minarc’s other principal, Erla Dogg Ingjaldsdottir. “That’s another way we minimize waste.” By introducing a “void,” Minarc created a ventilation space for the home to breathe, while reducing waste on the factory floor. “Each time you cut a window in a panel, that becomes waste,” said Ingjaldsdottir.

What reads as a single vertical window is actually two dual-glazed windows on a white vinyl frame, stacked one atop the other. The top window allows heat to escape; the lower window, covered by a cedar board shutter, allows cooler air inside the home. “We tried to design so the homes wouldn’t need to use air conditioning,” said Thorsteinsson.

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A view of the condos from the street.
Gustavo Frittegotto

Los Angeles architects Marcelo Spina and Georgina Huljich’s hyphen-obsessed firm P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S represents one of the most innovative practices in the city. Its experiments with digital fabrication and composite materials are especially advanced because the company, unlike most, builds not only in LA, but also in China and in Spina’s native country, Argentina.

The most recent example is the firm’s Jujuy Redux condo project on a corner lot in Spina’s hometown of Rosario, Argentina. P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S developed the building with MSA, the firm of Spina’s brother Maxi, in the city’s rapidly developing Pichincha neighborhood.

The peek-a-boo lobby (left). The units views are shaped by the exterior walls (right).

They created an eight-story, 13,500-square-foot structure without a huge budget, and it’s not a luxury project. The two-bedroom units inside are small and simple, but beautiful. They are open and airy, with views enhanced by a system of large balconies that cantilever far away from the building, supported by swooping, paraboloid-shaped, poured-in-place concrete walls, These were formed on-site in digitally fabricated fiberglass molds at the same time as the building’s concrete framing so they are completely integrated with the structure.

Sidewalk view of the Jujuy Redux condo.

Much like at LA’s American Cement Building (home to this publication’s West Coast office), the balcony walls frame unique views of the city. Few developers today choose such a system over uninterrupted glass. But the framing offers privacy and much needed shade for large balconies and the interiors, protecting them from the hot Argentina sun. The framing’s perforated triangular patterns further this shading and help draw natural ventilation. And the large balconies end up serving as outdoor rooms.

A corner window inside a living unit (left).  The balconies provide semi-private outdoor rooms (right).

“We wanted to provide both moments—moments of exposure and moments of privacy,” Spina said.

The intricate triangular patterns also shape the building’s double-height lobby, creating intricate shadows and peek slots, as well as the luxurious rooftop sundeck, which is lined with dark hardwood. From the outside, a visually engaging facade emerges.

The name P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S might be difficult to type, but it makes sense, considering the firm’s obsession with shapes. And as the project shows, patterns can serve a purpose, visual, spatial, and climactic.

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Lehrer Architects
The living room pavilion opens up completely to the backyard.
Benny Chan

Santa Monica Canyon, a tranquil neighborhood embedded into the hills just inland from the Pacific Coast, is blessed with thick woods, gurgling creeks, and cooling ocean breezes. It’s truly one of the great refuges from LA’s urban frenzy. So it makes no sense that many of the million-dollar houses there seem to turn their back on it.

Michael Lehrer’s Canyon Residence doesn’t. Yes, it’s still a 13,000-square-foot mansion—this is no rustic bungalow. But despite its gem-like finishes and ample spaces, you often forget that. In much of the residence, the distinction between inside and outside doesn’t exist. Many of its walls disappear and the scene outside engulfs every room.

The home, clad in pristine white plaster, is organized along two main spines, which are marked by transparent glazed catwalks that provide full site lines down their length. Along those spines the house is arranged as a series of cube-shaped pavilions in the landscape, making their way around four large trees. Lehrer solved a geometric puzzle in their staggered layout, exposing as much surface area as possible. (He calls the spatial rigor “deep order.”) And within that organization, layered clerestories, skylights, bridges, and window walls provide more peeks of light and scenery.

left to right: The house contains a working sculpture studio; A glass wall opens onto the central courtyard.

After you walk into the house you come upon the pavilions that are the most open to the landscape—a sloping amalgamation containing modern sculptures, ancient trees, a brook, emerald-green grass, thick brush, and a working produce and flower garden. The living room’s walls disappear completely on two sides, creating an outdoor room; the breakfast room’s walls slide away on alternating sides to allow cross breezes; and the dining room’s walls are made of pivoting glass doors that open up in theatrical fashion to the yard.

The living room pavilion with glass walls open.

The next pavilion is basically the living center. Its centerpiece is the “great room,” a 40-foot-wide space containing both the open kitchen and a family room. It’s where most of the action happens, and you can see into most corners of the house from here, thanks to its large openings, which often start above existing timber and plaster-clad walls.

The final pavilion, clad in translucent glass and focused around an industrial courtyard, is the owner’s sculpture studio. His interest in materials, and stone in particular, extends to the house. He’s picked out onyx and other gem-like stones that adorn, among other things, the bathroom and bedroom furniture and fixtures. The whole place feels like a sculpture.

Also bucking its size and luxury, the house is net zero, thanks to roofs covered with photovoltaic panels, no air-conditioning, hydronic heating, cross ventilation, and little need for lights during the day. While this is a luxurious house, Lehrer calls it his laboratory for ideas. “You have no excuses with an opportunity like this,” he said.

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Francois Perrin
The house's stacked levels provide shade for one another.
Michael Wells

LA architect Francois Perrin grew up in France watching James Bond movies and dreaming of someday building one of the villains’ epic modernist houses. It would be perched on a mountaintop or in some other seemingly impossible-to-reach location.

His dream finally came true, minus the villain part, when Perrin was commissioned to build a 3,000-square-foot glass house on an extraordinarily steep site just around the corner from the Hollywood sign.

In fact, when you look at the precarious landscape around the house, it’s impossible not to wonder just how the architect was able to pull it off. Perrin said it was pretty simple and akin to building a gigantic staircase, actually a giant concrete retaining wall, and then stacking the house—a series of terraced glass boxes—on top of it.

Interior spaces are connected with outdoor spaces (left). The Hollywood sign looms in the background (right).

Perrin actually embedded the retaining wall and the floor-to-ceiling glass-clad boxes into the earth, keeping the house remarkably temperate. The dug-in aspect also helps block the harsh sunrays that a house perched on top of a cliff usually suffers from. In addition, the stacking of the cantilevered roofs creates shading for each successive level, like a pagoda.

Such delightfully low-tech sustainability also includes a great deal of cross ventilation, made possible through huge sliding glass doors on multiple frontages, and by smaller windows embedded into the glass panels that can be left open even after the sliders are closed. Stacked stairways create a chimney effect, forcing hot air up and out.

But the house is also quite high-tech. Louvers along the side are filled with rainwater—collected from the roof—which help warm the home’s water when heated by the sun. Water-filled tubes under the concrete floors and even under the cement patio keep surfaces cool while also heating the water in the pool. Many of these elements were produced by the home’s owner, Yves Lefay, owner of Eliosolar, which specializes in “architectural hybrid shades.”

The open staircase creates a chimney effect to draw heat out of the house.

On the construction side, building a behemoth staircase was not so easy. To support the perched home, 30 to 40 builders at a time dug 41 caissons; often the builders were supported as they worked only by ropes.

As a result, the house, with its bermed siting and three large glass boxes—a studio below; guest rooms, kids rooms, and an entrance above; and master bedroom and living room on top—feels like a cave that quickly opens up and extends outward. Large decks hanging off each box create more square footage and make the outdoor space almost as plentiful as the indoor.

From the outside, its dark steel frame and reflective glass give the house what Perrin describes as “a tendency to disappear” into the surrounding vegetation, a goal of the architect, who hopes to add still more vegetation and can’t wait for what is already there to eventually envelop the house. It’s a refreshingly sensitive approach in a landscape of often ego-driven hillside houses. Besides, if you’re going to defeat James Bond, you don’t want to stand out, do you?

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Craig Steely Architecture
The penthouse studio rises through the planted roof.
Bruce Damonte
Left to right: The kitchen is flooded with natural light from above; the facade is composed of reused wood strips; a steel exoskeleton fronts the original Victorian exterior; a frosted glass wall separates the bathroom from the master bedroom.

A house overlooking Eureka Valley in San Francisco is a delicious Napoleon pastry of a layered building: There’s a dramatic industrial-chic facade, a wood-lined Sea Ranch-style retreat on top, and some toothsome Victorian gingerbread in back.

For architect Craig Steely, whose firm tagline is “modern architecture in exotic places, exotic architecture in modern places,” the major renovation of a house dating from the 1880s was a tightrope act. “The clients didn’t want a really modern house or a painstakingly precise renovation,” said Steely. “It’s hard to have both new and old be really strong, and not have one nullify the other.”

Once king of the hill, the original Victorian had been the lone house in the area, directly facing the San Francisco Bay. More houses and a road were built next to it, changing the south side of the house into the front. Over the years, a series of ramshackle additions—“weekend warrior projects,” said Steely—were tacked on to the street-facing side. Astonished by the panoramic vistas, now available only from the rooftop, the clients purchased the property with the goal of adding another level and quickly realized that they would need a major seismic upgrade.

The home's simple, cozy living space (left) and a detail of the living room's oblique picture window (right).

But rather than take the motley lot down altogether, which would have been the more cost-effective approach, the clients—he’s an artist, she’s a filmmaker—were adamant that some of the historical structure be saved. Steely devised a strategy that would avoid tampering with the Victorian facade while providing necessary stability: a steel “exoskeleton” accompanied by a series of moment frames staggered through the completely reworked interiors.

The highly visible, four-story exoskeleton defines the facade. Made of galvanized I-beams that were bolted together onsite, it gives the house a major-construction-site grandeur. At first glance, the exterior cladding looks like it could be corrugated metal, but on closer inspection, it reveals itself to be a jigsaw puzzle of wood strips, painted with one coat for a whitewashed effect. The client spent three weeks milling the redwood salvaged from the old additions into siding of five different widths to create a subtle but pleasing irregularity. “It’s like a Louise Nevelson piece,” said Steely. For contrast, the Victorian facade was painted Day-Glo chartreuse.

The penthouse studio on top is like a cabin in a field—but one that has been uprooted and transplanted to the top of a much larger residence. The 250-square-foot space has a ceiling and floor paneled in cedar with a band of windows continuing seamlessly across a round corner, opening up three sides to the view. The sunken design brings the rooftop landscaping up to eye level—the garden of native grasses and plants lies just below the bottom of the windows which are about three feet from the floor. Framing the view is the steel exoskeleton, which forms an immense contemporary trellis. Instead of vines, it is draped with bifacial solar panels that collect light from above and below, while filtering the light entering the house.

A home office looks out over San Francisco (left) and the home's planted roof (right).

Below the studio is the house proper: an open kitchen and dining and living rooms form an L around an enclosed wing, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The level below is divided between an office and a separate apartment that the clients are renting out. The studio is linked with the main living space through the round stairwell of a spiral staircase, but it also has a view into the kitchen through a large skylight.

While from within, the focus is on visual tiers from many vantage points and through various apertures, the house itself, with its striking steel trellis and balconies dramatically extending towards the horizon provides a welcome addition to the city’s panorama.

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Pasadena Showcase House
Modern white furniture in the historicized living room.
Peter Christiansen Valli

In the past two months over 30,000 people toured the 1927 English manor estate by Paul Williams, chosen as this year’s Pasadena Showcase House of the Arts. Now in its 47th year, the fundraiser supports local cultural programs with local designers donating their time and talents in exchange for press.

While many showcase houses take place in unsold or empty properties, this one was vacated for six months by its (anonymous) owners. But they returned to a home with millions of dollars worth of remodeling and rehabilitation, both inside and out.

Located in La Cañada Flintridge, a wealthy suburb with about 40 Williams-designed homes, the property includes a 7,200-square-foot main house, a 1,800-square-foot guesthouse, and a pool house on about five acres. Commissioned by former rancher and real estate investor John Bishop Green, the English-style home has a red brick exterior with two decorative pot-topped chimneys. Inside, its ornate ceilings are made of plaster-of-Paris and burlap, the floors are cork, and windows are glass casements. When the property sold in 1945, it was described in the Los Angeles Times as “the most authentic 17th century English home in this country.”

Left to right: A custom starburst chandelier; the Moroccan-themed bedroom; Paul Williams' English-manor style house.
Lynda Rivers

In January the badly dilapidated house was handed over to 24 local design teams. Because of its architectural significance, the main manor did not undergo structural alteration. It did receive updated landscaping, as well as a detailed cleaning of its brick and mortar façade and a retooling of the roof and gutters.

Inside was a different story. With 10-foot doors, original leaded glass windows, a paneled and beamed ceiling, and a hand-carved wood and stone fireplace, the home’s “Great Room” reminded LA designer David Dalton of a hunting lodge or cathedral. He added a custom-made modern starburst chandelier, along with Tony Duquette lamps reproduced by Baker Furniture and bright floral and chintz fabrics by Isaac Mizrahi.

From Pasadena, Yorkshire Kitchens maintained the original footprint of the kitchen, restoring the sink, countertops, hardware, and cabinetry while building in modern appliances and transforming a pantry into a laundry room.

Reflecting on the spoils of 1920s first class travel, LA-based Barclay Butera Interiors used rich blues and reds with metallic gold accents and exotic elements to transform a bedroom into a Moroccan-style retreat. The outdoors comes figuratively in through touches like a custom-designed bed made of metal branches, a twig and moss chair, and foliage-inspired paint colors in LA-based designer Kristi Nelson’s bedroom blending nature with antique treasures for a lady’s bedroom and bathroom. Citing her experience working on historical houses including her own, Nelson also raised and mirrored the bathroom ceiling to add light to the small space without compromising the vintage fixtures and tiles.

The revamped pool area includes new furniture, landscaping, and outdoor dining away from the main manor (left) and intimate patio seating closer to the house (right).

The estate’s grounds also saw a significant upgrade. Reflecting Williams’ characteristic integration of house and gardens, they were redesigned to create a flowing connection to the home through livable outdoor spaces. Overlooking the 1940s pool area, Tunjunga-based FormLA Landscaping used sustainable materials like repurposed windows, recycled glass decorative pieces, and native plants to create a whimsical outdoor dining area with an Alice in Wonderland theme.

Other improvements included a new outdoor fireplace, a vineyard, and a new guesthouse that rose from a former horse stable.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” benefit chairman Kathryn Hofgaarden said of the estate’s transformation. “The architectural elements have not disappeared.” Now faultlessly on trend, the current owners can look back on their six months in exile as well worth it.