A hillside house in Los Angeles meshes architect Aleks Istanbullu's modernism with the exuberance of his film-animator client
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 3/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
There's a saying in Hollywood: "Animators live in a comic-strip world." No surroundings could be more cartoon-energetic than the house of Gabor Csupo, the multitalented film animator, producer, and director who gave us The Simpsons, Rugrats, Duckman, and Santo Bugito—besides being an accomplished musician with three solo electronica CDs to his credit. Art and artifacts, both serious and seriously idiosyncratic, speak of an unbridled enthusiast who's combed sources in London, Rome, his native Budapest, and his adopted city of Los Angeles. "If I see something I like, I just snap it up," he says, dispelling any notions of focus. Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso lithographs, an Henri Matisse drawing, five canvases by Hungarian multimedia artist Andras Wahorn, Russian icons, and a 15-foot-long metal submarine sculpture by Baron Margo compose just part of the 8,000-square-foot picture inhabited by Csupo, his wife, Bret Crain, and their four children.
Csupo's opening line to Aleks Istanbullu, a Santa Monica architect with modernist leanings: "We're going to be dream clients. And push you to the limit, building the craziest, most artistic space you can come up with." Could this be an architect's dream? Perhaps. But coupled with the call to creativity came challenges imposed by the dichotomies of stuff versus space, comfort and family life versus grand scale and entertainment-world theatricality. Not to mention that Istanbullu had to reconcile customary elements—living and dining zones, kitchen, children's quarters—with a request for a treetop-level master suite tricked out with its own lounge, exercise room, and decks. Industry-specific needs came in the form of a screening room, a recording studio, and a library for Csupo's encyclopedic collection of CDs, DVDs, laser discs, and vinyl records.
Topography and geology presented their own constraints. High up on Mulholland Drive, the 2-acre property is on a steep hillside, offering limited space for a complex program. Istanbullu demolished the existing house, with the exception of a wall in the current kitchen. However, he did retain a leaf-shape pool, whose size and location practically determined the new house's geometry.
The resulting design is, at its most basic, a rectangular volume in three parts. Istanbullu cites additional rationales for his chosen form: "Because they're a close family, the house needed to be compact rather than sprawling over the site." The rectangle's main component, facing the pool, is a glass-fronted living-dining area that's 30 feet wide by 48 long by 18 high. Not only does it anchor the other compositional elements but it also welcomes distinct daytime and nighttime readings. "By day, the living area almost becomes part of the landscape," the architect comments. When the sun goes down, it's party time. With an exposed steel framework, a painted corrugated-metal ceiling, and an elaborate projector-lighting system, the new-wave disco is ready to rock.
This primary volume is further articulated through materials and level changes that "help break it down into playful pieces," says Istanbullu. The rear wall is anigre, as opposed to the painted drywall elsewhere. The dining area is elevated. Red Venetian plaster covers the overhang of the playroom on the second floor; copper pigment is mixed into the Venetian plaster surrounding an indoor koi pond, upping the quirkiness quotient of the striking mise-en-scène. Behind this open public space, the architect built a more opaque, two-story volume. Its lower level holds the screening room, recording studio, and library; above is the children's level, including the playroom.
The entry, too, is resolved as a separate piece. A stucco-surfaced trapezoid with fiber-optic lighting embedded in the long inner face, this compressed passageway shimmers at night and amplifies the living-dining area's grandeur at any hour. The house's topmost component is the third-floor master suite, with its 80-foot-long axis. A redwood deck topped with riverbed gravel and a slate-surfaced second deck set off this construction of mahogany, glass, and painted metal.
Simultaneously spectacular and sane, Istanbullu's project is ultimately—as he acknowledges—a backdrop for the domestic theater of Hollywood life. Sink back to the future in Eero Aarnio's fiberglass Ball chair or his clear acrylic Bubble chair. Curl up in Gaetano Pesce's embracing polyurethane-foam Up chair, while a cocktail sits on the adjacent fiberglass Screw table, also by Aarnio. Or choose an Italian custom sofa. Any option places you smack at center stage.