The Accidental Resident *
In a move meant to be temporary, Dennis Gibbens designed a permanent home in Los Angeles.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 7/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
In 1991, Dennis Gibbens was at a crossroads. The architecture market had slowed in New York, where he was living, and he had friends on the West Coast. "Why not succumb to a year of seductive California sunshine while loosening some Manhattan roots?" he wondered. With undergraduate and master's degrees from Columbia University and a stint at I.M. Pei & Partners under his belt, Gibbens hadn't the slightest inclination to decamp permanently. But, he points out, "A lot of life is serendipity."
The envisioned single year stretched into several as Gibbens, now principal of his own namesake firm, built up a residential clientele in Los Angeles and settled into a 1912 craftsman-style bungalow near the beach in Venice. Four years ago, when the adjacent property hit the market, he seized the chance to move next door—and apply architecture as autobiography.
So what does the resulting three-floor house say about Gibbens the architect and the Californian? Beachside living embraces a vocabulary all its own, and Gibbens employs it fluently. Besides honoring the modest scale of the neighborhood—increasingly gentrified but nevertheless still funky—his 2,500-square-foot house exhibits a palette pared down to maintenance-free materials. Outside, a base of mission stone is topped by sand-colored stucco. Paint and wood are conspicuously absent, due to salt air's corrosive nature.
"California equals outdoor living," he adds, echoing thousands of converts before him. With the house's 1,000 square feet worth of terrace and courtyard, he kept true to his mantra. First there's his private "room in the sky," a 480-square-foot walled roof terrace with a built-in hot tub, an open-air shower, and a barbecue grill. "The lots are small here, so I put the yard on the roof," he explains. At the front of the third level, off his study, is a counterpart furnished with butterfly chairs—perfect for stargazing.
Then, on the second floor, Gibbens inserted a flagstone-paved courtyard with a cast-concrete fire pit for entertaining on chilly nights. In daytime, the courtyard brings sunlight deep into the heart of the contiguous public zone, comprising a kitchen and the living and dining areas—the living area soaring to 18 1/2 feet. Across the courtyard lies the master suite.
Gibbens addressed additional private needs on the first level. Sharing the spotlight with the entry's curving oak stairway, the library presents a chic ensemble of cowhide rug and white leather-covered Antonio Citterio chairs. The intimate area can be transformed into a guest room on occasion, thanks to a rectilinear sofa bed by Didier Gomez and white linen draperies on a semicircular ceiling track.
The third-level study occupies a mezzanine overlooking the public zone. Jean Prouvé's Standard chair pulls up to a teak counter, opposite a wool-upholstered daybed. Overhead, a trio of oculi hints seductively at the spalike roof terrace beyond.
There are few precious details, top to bottom. All cabinetry is teak, while Douglas fir clads the ceiling in the entry. Flooring is predominantly ' light oak, and walls throughout are painted pure white. Windows framed in black-painted steel surround the courtyard. "I went for the 'stylelessness' of the early 20th century to avoid making something that will become dated," says Gibbens.
While he claims style-free architecture, his enthusiasm for designed objects knows no boundaries. In the living area, Joseph-André Motte's chairs from the 1950's and a French 1940's mahogany side table coexist peacefully with a walnut cocktail table by George Nakashima and a Chinese 19th-century altar table and candlesticks. The dining area recognizes Mario Bellini with his namesake polypropylene chairs.
A nod to the early years of modernism takes the form of Gerrit Rietveld's Zig-Zag chair at the entry. But Gibbens shakes things up with contrast: The piece adjacent to the Rietveld is a Guatemalan chest from the 19th century.
Current, local influences are represented, too. The house is a virtual gallery for Venice artist Robert Stortz, who is also a lighting consultant—almost all the oil paintings are his. And one piece by Gibbens is truly genius loci: a 7 1/2-foot-long oval dining table coated in surfboard resin. "If it were the right size, you could ride it," the architect boasts. What says California more clearly than that?
Dennis Gibbens transformed the roof of his Los Angeles house into a 480-square-foot terrace. It's equipped with a barbecue grill, an open-air shower, and a hot tub and enclosed by fiberglass-reinforced concrete panels framed in painted steel.
The architect inserted a second-floor courtyard, which brings light into a living area furnished with Joseph-André Motte's 1950's chairs, a French 1940's mahogany side table, and George Nakashima's walnut cocktail table.
Next to a kitchen defined by teak and polished granite stands a custom dining table coated in surfboard resin; Mario Bellini's chairs are injection-molded fiberglass-infused polypropylene.
The living area's altar table and candlesticks are Chinese 19th-century.
The living area's cotton-covered sofa is custom. Gibbens found the floor lamp at a Santa Monica flea market.
In the entry, modernism teams up with eclecticism and minimalism via Gerrit Rietveld's Zig-Zag chair, a Guatemalan 19th-century chest, concrete flooring, and an oak stair with a drywall balustrade.
Butterfly chairs of anonymous provenance furnish the flagstone-paved third-level terrace, which faces the street in front of the house.
The exterior of the 2,500-square-foot residence is mission stone and stucco.
Overlooking the second floor, the mezzanine study features a teak counter, Jean Prouvé's Standard chair, a daybed upholstered in wool, and woven-vinyl floor covering. Linen draperies and Didier Gomez's Nomade Express sofa bed allow the library to double as guest quarters; the leather-covered Visalounge chairs are by Antonio Citterio.