Architects often design their own homes and I wonder what it’s like to be your own client. Having spent countless hours designing for other people, Steven Ehrlich of Ehrlich Architects tackled his own home in Venice, California. I spoke with Steven recently in anticipation of his home, 700 Palms, being a stop on the Dwell on Design Home Tour.
What did you incorporate from Venice culture and design into the architecture and interior of the home?
I have been living in Venice since 1979 and appreciate its original bohemian culture. I felt the house should be organic and rooted into the landscape. Although this was one of the first larger houses in the neighborhood (of which there are now many) I paid special attention to how the scale of the house was reduced at the street edge and specifically did not consume the entire lot. I also used naturally weathering and recycled materials that change their patina over time. I feel this is in harmony with Venice’s eclecticism.
You used sustainable materials and concrete in your design – can you explain more about these materials and why they’re being used?
I used concrete block extensively for load-bearing walls. The block we developed with the manufacturer is a special blend of white cement, white sand and pumice. It has a wonderful, rough textural quality and the finish is exposed inside and out. I feel its rough texture fits well with the neighborhood. We also used the material “Trex” which is made up of recycled sawdust and plastic. We developed a rain screen application for this material that is normally used for decking.
What are some of the other green features of the home?
The house has no air-conditioning; the house is cooled through natural ventilation and the microclimate developed with landscaped courtyards. The heating is achieved with under-floor hot water pipes from a gas fired furnace which we use for only 6 months of the year. We also have photovoltaic panels on the roof that generate electricity.
SoCal has a unique climate – how did you maximize indoor/outdoor living and space?
The idea to fuse indoor and outdoor space was paramount. It follows the path of California Modernists (Schindler & Neutra). The initial design of the house was studied from a positive / negative space relationship which meant that the outdoor rooms being defined by buildings and walls are as important as the indoor spaces themselves. The site perimeter walls are made of the same materials as the main house, therefore they act as an extension of the architecture into the landscape.
What was it like being your own client?
Being one’s own client is both a blessing and a curse… the blessing is that you can do exactly what you believe in, and hope to accomplish. The downside to all of this is that one’s own house becomes a symbol of those very ideals and therefore becomes a greater scrutinized work of architecture for which I will be judged. One of the other issues that became a defining constraint was the challenge of working within a straightforward and tight budget.
What is your favorite feature of the home?
I love the glass bridge supported in suspension by steel cables. Walking on this bridge every day to access the upstairs bedroom is an exciting journey. The bridge is also an expression of my belief in technology: you have something very technical and futuristic, anchoring into a heavy and primal element. I also love the pool in the house, which is directly adjacent to the living room. It’s wonderful when kids jump into the pool from the house and run back inside… it works just fine with our “get wet” concrete floors.
What were some of the project’s challenges and your solutions?
The site had three existing large 70 year-old trees (two Aleppo Pines and one Canary Island Palm). Thus, the home was designed around three courtyards each saving one of the trees. We had to be very careful to protect the roots and health of the trees during construction. I’m happy to say they have all flourished over the last number of years and add a great sense of scale to the house. They further the ideal of living in an urban oasis.