© Michal Czerwonka
Sculptor Cliff Garten is known for his grand public pieces. His wife, Molly Reid, is a residential architect. The couple's first collaboration: an overhaul of a dilapidated house and garage on a 11,000-square-foot lot in Los Angeles, which they bought for $800,000 in 2002.
The resulting compound reflects elements of both of them. Reid, 49, said she tends to think more about alignment and measurements. Garten, 59, said he understands a space by "feeling" its energy and finding a way to make a place and a sculpture fit together.
Reid drew the plans, keeping the footprint of the 3,000-square-foot house but raising the ceilings from 7 feet to 9 feet in the kitchen and living room, installing skylights and opening up the living room to the yard with large glass walls that push open. The two-car garage, which had been converted into a guest house, was torn down and replaced by a 1,500-square-foot corrugated metal studio with 20-foot ceilings. (Bing: How do you paint rooms with high ceilings?)
Finished in 2009 for about $500,000, the house and the studio are connected by a courtyard. The compound is concealed by a tall hedge, separating it from the hectic neighborhood of narrow streets and eclectic houses about a mile from the beach. A similar-size, six-bedroom house nearby is for sale for $3.5 million.
Garten made sculptures to help the house and yard relate to the studio. One way he did that was by incorporating a sculpture into the main house. He built a wall-like screen that divides the kitchen and living room yet maintains a sense of the room's large size. The sculpture, which cost about $30,000 to make, consists of slices of finished plywood with a maple veneer, offset to create a look of undulating waves. "It was generated by the energy and the volume of the room," he said.
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The color palette in the main house came from a series of 19th-century Japanese prints that Garten bought in Tokyo. Walls are painted bright colors: orange in the entryway, yellow in the living room and bright green cabinets in the kitchen. In the living room are three large prints by Garten, digital renderings of sections of his large sculptures that look a little like Spirograph drawings, in aqua, orange and yellow.
The couple picked most of the furniture for its sculptural forms. There's a Noguchi coffee table and a collection of chairs with modern lines designed by architects, including Frank Gehry's Power Play chair, which looks as if it's made out of wood shavings. The modern Arne Jacobsen chairs around the kitchen table are pink, green, blue, orange, yellow and red.
Outside, Reid designed a galvanized steel-and-mahogany arbor covered with wisteria over a large outdoor dining table next to the studio, to give domesticity to the metal work space and connect it to the house. Also in front of the studio, Garten made a sculpture with water bubbling out the top. Made from a big chunk of gray granite, it's the same color and height as the fire pit outside the house.
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To soften the industrial feel of the studio, he made one exterior wall a garden wall, with plants such as star jasmine crawling up its white stucco surface.
The living and working spaces the couple created reflect both their goals. Garten's reaction to moving to Los Angeles from Minneapolis in 2000 was to seek a respite from the vastness and craziness of the city — a space where he could live and work that was big enough to contain his massive works of art but tranquil enough to block out the city. He didn't want to have to fight L.A. traffic to get to work every day. So he made that refuge in the studio Reid designed, a large room with visible steel beams and gray concrete floors. At a 4-foot-long skylight, a 7-foot, corrugated-plastic lighting sculpture made of small plates hangs from the 20-foot ceiling.
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Around the room are models and drawings of many of the 60 or so civic sculptures Garten has made or is working on, each of which takes between three and six years to complete. His works include a 40-foot stainless-steel sculpture tower in Dallas and a 16-foot-tall curvy stainless-steel sculpture in Long Beach, Calif.
Reid wanted to stay in Venice, which is urban, but she wanted a homey, warm environment to raise their daughter, now 8. For her own personal space, Reid designed a large, lacquered wood desk in an office filled with family photos. A door at one end leads out to a sunny garden with lemon, lime, mandarin and grapefruit trees and a little bench for reading. Inside, she created a wall where 40 tubes of different colors of glitter are framed and hang perfectly spaced; her childhood dollhouse, a yellow Colonial, sits in the living room.
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The couple's house still isn't finished. Garten wants to make chandeliers — or "lighting sculptures" — for the dining room and kitchen. "I envision them as curiosities — elegant but strange," he said.
Reid is happy with the puffy, white, inexpensive George Nelson bubble pendants there now. She said she wants to keep costs down and doesn't want to detract from the wall he made. "I'm the practical one," she said.
Always good to see some nice, clean direct architecture. What really should be over in the "mid-century" is phony cheap copies of european or Spainish village structures built out of manufactured stone and stucco.
This house does not appeal to me. All credit to the couple for restoring a run-down property, but it resembles an Ikea showroom; no warmth at all. Mid-century modern has been over for a while - can't MSN find something more interesting to feature than an over-priced tract house re-do? I'm sure most clicking through the photos are wondering, "this is here why?"