Glass doors on the south side open
onto a courtyard of Noreen Morioka
and Shari Robins' home.
To save money, the couple priced
fixtures online and used plywood
for walls indoors and out.
MODEL HOME Mr. Myers's own
house in Montecito, which inspired
the scaled-down version he
designed for Ms. Morioka and Ms. Robins.
|FOUR years ago, Noreen Morioka and Shari Robins decided their 900-square-foot cottage
in Venice, Calif., could use a new bathroom. So Ms. Morioka, a graphic designer, called
her friend Barton Myers, an architect whose office space she had once shared, and asked
him if he could do the job for $15,000.
Mr. Myers, who is perhaps best known for the
New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, had bigger ideas. When he came to look at the
house, he told them, "You don't need me to make a bathroom, and you aren't
exploiting the value of your property." Instead, he came up with a plan to tear down
the ramshackle garage in the middle of the backyard and build an indoor-outdoor loft for
living and sleeping. While he was at it, he suggested adding a rental apartment over a new
garage on the rear alley.
In no time, Ms. Morioka recalled, "We went from a bathroom to a tower, before
setting a ceiling of $120,000 and pulling back." She and Ms. Robins quickly dropped
any plans for the garage and rental unit, but were tempted by the loft idea.
They drove to Montecito to see the soaring steel and glass house that Mr. Myers had
built for himself and his wife, Vicki. Impressed by its open, light-filled interior, they
eagerly embraced the modestly scaled version of his own home that the architect proposed,
using a set of Lucite blocks to explain his concept of a loft space linked to the cottage
by a breezeway, with a detached steel-frame carport.
Ms. Morioka, a principal in Adams Morioka, a graphic design firm, and Ms. Robins, a
professional chef who recently opened a food store near the beach, had bought their little
cottage, on a 40-by-180-foot lot, for $272,000 in 2000.
"I told Barton we didn't want to be surrounded by steel," Ms. Morioka
said. "His house feels warm because it's filled with a lifetime of collections,
which we don't have."" The architect suggested marine-grade plywood for the
lining and exterior. By staining and sealing the rough-textured facade, they could save
the cost of cladding it with metal or stucco.
Ms. Robins, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.,
insisted on professional-quality fittings and finishes. Ms. Morioka, whose grandparents
immigrated from Japan, hoped to infuse the house with her heritage. Mr. Myers, it turned
out, had admired traditional Japanese houses as a student at the University of
Pennsylvania, and has been playing variations on that theme, in steel and plywood, ever
Today, the addition's boxy top appears from the street to be an integral part of
the 1950's bungalow, with its low-pitched roof. Construction was completed last year,
and the strong California sun has already faded the soft tones of red, green and brown
that the couple chose for the exterior. Julie Milligan, a lawyer turned landscape
designer, planted the front yard with a dense green screen, and a palisade of bamboo in
back has already grown 30 feet high.
Ms. Robins painted the walls and sanded the floors of the old house to freshen them up,
but nothing prepares a visitor for the surprise of stepping down into the glass-roofed
breezeway that links the bungalow to the addition. An inner wall of boldly grained cedar
plays off the view of sky overhead and vegetation seen through glass doors at either end,
so that even the breezeway's interior feels like part of the garden.
Inside the addition, an off-center passage, lined with translucent glass-fronted
closets, leads past the bathroom to the loft. Two of the loft walls are clad in the same
plywood as the breezeway, and the south face opens up through pocketing glass sliders and
a roll-up glass door to a landscaped courtyard. Another slider, of translucent glass,
reveals the bathroom, with its shower and hinoki wood soaking tub from Roberts Hot Tubs.
Between the bed and the bathroom, a sitting area with Eames furniture and a Pakistani
rug on the polished concrete floor allows the loft to do double duty as a private retreat
and a space for entertaining, with the courtyard as an outdoor room that can be used for
most of the year. The whole addition is "just a simple box, but it isn't as
simple as it first appears," Mr. Myers said.
The greatest challenge was to realize the architect's design on a tight budget.
Good contractors are expensive and sometimes reluctant to lavish effort on an
880-square-foot structure. Mr. Myers assembled the construction crew and told them:
"People will see everything you do, it's all exposed. I want you to bring
your families back to show them what you've done."
His encouragement seems to have worked, and it probably also helped that Ms. Robins was
on site every day and willing to do a lot of the work herself. The artisan who installed
the green glass tiles in the shower took three days to get them exactly right, and the
finishes on the plywood are extraordinarily smooth.
Ms. Robins took responsibility for selecting and securing high-grade faucets, the
soaking tub from Roberts Hot Tubs and stainless restaurant sinks for the bathroom, going online to get the best
price and then bargaining with local suppliers. In the end, the cost climbed to $287,000,
far above their original ceiling, but a lot less than the local average for quality
construction, which is now around $500 a square foot.
One recent evening, as they broke out Champagne at twilight in the garden, the couple
gazed fondly into their glowing loft. "The house blurs the boundaries between indoors
and out, and gives you the best of both,"" Ms. Morioka said. "It's
incredibly inspiring, and it expands the way we perceive our own creativity."
For her partner, it provides a menu of choice. "It's a great place to
entertain, but it also gives the two of us room to breathe and spaces where we can be
alone when we want," Ms. Robins said. "It's all about basic human needs: I
provide food, Barton created the shelter, and everyone's life is enriched."