East and West flow together at designer Holger Schubert's shimmering canal-side residence in Venice, California
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Growing up in Braunschweig, Germany, Holger Schubert had lofty ambitions of a cosmopolitan sort. He came to Los Angeles as a high-school exchange student in 1984 and promptly fell under the big city's spell. Eventually, the German teenager grew up to be an industrial designer working for Toto in Japan. Now he's back in California, living in a 1988 Venice house that he and his Japanese wife, Yuriko Nagasaki, have transformed into a paean to light and serenity. East meets West in a confluence of European, Japanese, and Southern California influences.
As purchased four years ago, the 2,700-square-foot house—on a notoriously narrow Eastern Canal lot—was hardly appealing. But where others saw awkward rooms and birch-plywood paneling, the couple spotted the makings of a Zen-like environment. Throughout the structure, which has 11 south-facing windows, Schubert retained the fundamental spatial distribution. On the ground floor are the entry, master suite, and ubiquitous two-car garage. The next level up contains living areas with canal views, plus Schubert's studio. The uppermost level houses a Japanese sitting room and a guest bedroom.
With a palette of Spanish limestone, concrete, stainless steel, anodized aluminum, walnut, white oak, and translucent glass, Schubert rebuilt interiors and facades. The result is a pale envelope characterized by continuity and interconnection. Generous volumes, light, and an intangible sense of movement go a long way in overcoming the limited footprint, as do stone-covered terraces on the two upper levels.
The most intensive building effort occurred with the master suite. Here, the designer pushed out the garden-facing wall and reconfigured the enlarged, 800-square-foot expanse to encompass a bed-sitting zone, an elaborate bath, and his-and-hers closet blocks, all anchored by limestone flooring. The new elevation comprises sliding and fixed glass panels flanking a plaster piece, which houses a fireplace and a sound system. Schubert relied on an aluminum-clad structural column, located almost dead center, to divide the bedroom into sleeping and lounge zones. On this column he anchored a 50-inch plasma-screen television, often positioned to face an electronically adjustable Swiss bed backed by a walnut headwall; rotated 180 degrees, the screen faces Antonio Citterio seating and Schubert's own limestone-topped table. Minimalism and sophisticated gadgetry make natural bedfellows.
Burgundy wool drapes the wall that divides the bedroom from closets and bath. The latter's inner sanctum, a Japanese-style wet room, is arguably the project's most intricate component as well as a showpiece for Schubert's industrial-design talents. A Spanish limestone floor slopes gently down to a concealed strip drain. Chrome shower fittings are installed on an end wall clad in panels of stainless steel; the other end "wall," in walnut, is actually a pair of full-height pivot doors that conceal floor-to-ceiling shelving. "The key to minimalism is storage," comments the designer. In the adjacent zone, two walnut pedestal sinks are detailed to the hilt, with built-in soap dispensers, wall-mounted faucets, and slanted steel basins devoid of center drains. For privacy, a laminated-glass sliding panel separates the sinks from the toilet.
Aluminum-composite stairs, hand-folded by Schubert on-site, lead to the loftlike second level, which presents a strongly linear composition of horizontal and vertical planes in concrete, white oak, and white drywall. The kitchen—with its matte-lacquered cabinetry, stainless-steel accents, honed Carrara marble, and custom sink with multiple layers of cutting boards and baskets—is at one with the pristine living-dining zone. The studio, reached through a sliding door, is a 20-foot-high space encircled by white organza drapery that "turns it into a floating work tent," Schubert says. Computer equipment is stowed behind white-oak doors, and cables are snaked through the floor and up the metal base that anchors the revolving top of Schubert's 360 Table. Perimeter runs of white lacquered shelving, just an inch off the floor, provide surface area while imparting Japanese overtones.
The stairway, detailed with halogen lamps built into the brackets of the stainless-steel handrail, continues to the third floor and the Japanese sitting room, a mezzanine furnished with a 12-inch-high white-oak custom table set for a traditional tea ceremony. With the adjacent stone-covered terrace and a compact guest room, the top level extends the house's uninterrupted tranquility.
The prospect of living completely clutter-free would be daunting to most, but not to Holger Schubert. His industrial-design background, coupled with cited admiration for John Pawson, Claudio Silvestrin, and several Japanese architects, leaves no doubt that the renovation meets high standards of precision, detailing, and object appreciation as well as seamless spatial manipulation. Schubert's first architectural endeavor, the project also launched his nascent furniture and interiors firm, Archisis.