Power Couples Unite
For a celebrity chef and a media executive, Minarc's husband-wife team expanded and reinvented this Los Angeles house
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 6/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
As the saying goes, things aren't always as they seem. That's especially true for a Los Angeles house that, on first inspection, resembles a modern-day cabin. The first clue that this is no ordinary dwelling? The front lawn's topiary, shaped like a full-size settee. Next comes the gargantuan front door. Swing it open, and the long entry gallery splays to force a perspective clear through to Minarc's rear addition, a full-fledged contemporary intervention.
Minarc's married principals, architect Tryggvi Thorsteinsson and interior designer Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir, met chef-restaurateur Hans Röckenwagner and his Time Warner executive wife, Patti, a decade ago, when both the firm's office and Röckenwagner restaurant were in Santa Monica's Edgemar complex by Frank O. Gehry and Associates. The Röckenwagners then hired Minarc to renovate their house in Venice. When Röckenwagner, who's an accomplished woodworker, eventually went looking for more outdoor living space, he found it in the guise of an unassuming ship lap cottage on a ½-acre Mar Vista plot. Immediately, he could envision his dream house—and his dream backyard: swimming pool, tennis court, wood studio.
Before taking mouse to CAD for the house itself, Minarc focused on transforming the immense back lawn and asphalt parking area into an adult playground. "The project began with fitting in the tennis court," Thorsteinsson says. Then came the 45-foot-long mosaic-tiled pool, placed between the court and the house. That still left plenty of room at the rear to build a wood studio for Röckenwagner.
Out front, Thorsteinsson and Ingjaldsdóttir warmed up the curb appeal of the two-story facade by cladding it in redwood. So as not to disrupt the neighborhood's modest scale, they did little else. The three-bedroom interior remains essentially untouched, too—the Röckenwagners lived there during construction. Since completion, they've totally decamped to the all-inclusive addition, with its kitchen-dining-living sweep below and master suite above.
The 1,800-square-foot structure is, naturally, geared to Southern California's indoor-outdoor connection. All the way at the back, the living area has sliding glass doors on two sides. One set opens to the dining patio, complete with pizza oven. When the other set opens, the pool is literally a step away.
Interiors are true to the minimal architecture behind the Minarc name—minimal partitions, minimal materials. Downstairs, wood abounds: walnut, birch plywood, bubinga-burl veneer. Upstairs is more of the same, with ipé added to the mix in the master bath. Even the stairway speaks sotto voce. "It was designed so you can see past it," Ingjaldsdóttir says, adding that its cantilevered treads of steel-reinforced maple are "definitely not an architectural statement." Maximal, however, is light, a Minarc signature. In addition to the sliding glass doors, there are four skylights, and the windows are strategically situated to hide or frame views. In the upstairs hall, a cleverly placed opening resembles a floor-level clerestory.
The resident woodworker's skills are on display throughout the house, via cabinetry and furniture. And Minarc provided the most accepting of environments for pieces both built and acquired. The kitchen best represents the collaboration between the designers and Röckenwagner, who did the construction. A 10-foot-long birch-ply island with a walnut top incorporates the cooktop and surgically precise drawers, fitted for a professional chef. (His current restaurant is called 3 Square Café + Bakery.) Perpendicular to the island, a table on wheels and a steel track can roll from side to side, allowing for movable feasts. Along the wall, a stainless-steel counter caps a run of cabinets faced in sky-blue plastic laminate. Cladding the backsplash are ceramic mosaic tiles in a range of blues duplicating the pool's. Upstairs, another example of the collaboration is the master bathroom. Röckenwagner designed and made the black-lacquered birch-ply vanity and the ipé tub surround. Minarc contributed the recessed concrete shower with steel-framed windows.
As for furnishings, the dining patio's birch chairs come from Röck restaurant, which Röckenwagner sold last year. The living area has a mid-century feel, thanks to two different chairs by Charles and Ray Eames. In the master suite, the maple-plywood bed is one that Röckenwager had built for his residence in Venice. But the woodworker wunderkind kept plenty busy with pieces devised specifically for this house: walnut dining, cocktail, and side tables, bubinga-burl cabinets and consoles, a birch-ply wardrobe, and teak outdoor cabinetry. A stunning art collection includes works by Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha. But one mass-produced object is equally compelling. It's a 4-foot-tall, gleaming red Dutch 1950's meat slicer, parked under the stairway.