Artist In Residence
A painter lives and works in a cubist masterpiece of a Beverly Hills house by Steven Ehrlich
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 2/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Shortly after being named Firm of the Year by the AIA California Council, Steven Ehrlich Architects began building the home of Chuck and Kharlene Boxenbaum. He's a real-estate investor. She's a painter whose large-scale work has appeared in solo shows around the world.
In the 21-foot-high living room, Kharlene Boxenbaum's acrylic on linen floats between the stained-oak floor and the 2-foot-tall clerestory running along two walls.Steven Ehrlich designed the dining room's table of stainless steel and 3/4-inch-thick glass; the leather-covered chairs are by Platt & Young.Limestone steps and terraces lead to the facade's stucco volumes and steel planes.A niche by the fireplace holds Kharlene Boxenbaum's Israeli Flag in cotton twill and acrylic.
The master bedroom's headboard, covered in a blend of wool and polyester, backs up to a panel in walnut, also used for the built-ins. Custom walnut cabinetry and aluminum Eames chairs furnish Chuck Boxenbaum's study. In the second floor's 1,300-square-foot maple-floored studio, Ehrlich built two Douglas fir frames to supplement wall space. Hans Wegner's oak chairs surround Larry Baum's marble-topped table in the kitchen, where Ehrlich combined ebonized-oak cabinetry, quartz-composite counters, and a stainless-steel island and hood.
The location of the Boxenbaum house is Beverly Hills, but Steven Ehrlich's design is no Italianate villa or Tudor manse. And although he never dismisses the value of indoor-outdoor connectivity and light, he tweaked the Southern California model. . . a lot. This isn't about blurring boundaries. Instead, they're asserted through strong construction with an uncompromisingly contemporary attitude.
Ehrlich's plan for the 1/2-acre corner site starts with a series of limestone terraces and steps that raise the 9,000-square-foot house above street level, allowing him to put the garage, staff quarters, and service areas below grade. "It frees up the ground plane," he explains. All that's visible from the outside is two stories of living and work space, a dance of stucco cubes and floating steel roof planes.
Formal spaces occupy grand volumes concentrated toward the front of the first floor. The living room's ceiling rises to a staggering 21 feet, the height emphasized by a clerestory on two exposures. Bathed in its light, expanses of wall display Kharlene Boxenbaum's large canvases, haunting explorations of violence and war. Flooring alternates between warm gray limestone and robust stained oak, while textured stucco blocks form the overlapping planes of the 3-foot-thick wall that separates the living and dining rooms. On the living-room side, Ehrlich inserted a fireplace and a niche for one of Kharlene Boxenbaum's sculptures.
Most of the couple's furniture made an easy transition from their previous home, renovated in the 1980's by their old friend Frank Gehry. His cardboard Wiggle stool—a gift from the architect—sits in the living room, alongside Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona chairs and daybed covered in caramel-colored leather. A pair of leather Soft Pad chairs by Charles and Ray Eames appear in Chuck Boxenbaum's intimate study, which takes up the remainder of the front sector.
Separating these areas from guest quarters and the master suite—served by his-and-hers bathrooms—a 30-foot-long gallery runs from the front entry to the rear kitchen. Here, the mid-century motif reappears in the set of Hans Wegner chairs at the table. The ebonized-oak cabinetry, quartz-composite counters, and generous stainless-steel island stand ready for Kharlene Boxenbaum, who's part Italian, to walk in and start cooking caponata or vitello tonnato. When she's at the sink, she can look out the window at the garden's reflecting pond.
A much larger window, 20 feet high, rises behind the open stairway of steel and ebonized oak. "The large glass surface and the light coming in balance the huge areas of solid walls," Ehrlich says. To anchor the lofty scene, he extended the limestone landing beneath the first flight of stairs, as a plinth. On it sits a Kharlene Boxenbaum work in progress, Big Ball of Yarn.
The paintings and sculpture downstairs are just a preview of the second floor—naturally, a main component of the Boxenbaum commission was an art studio, in this case more of an artist's nirvana. In the 1,300-square-foot studio proper, with its north-facing windows and maple floor, Ehrlich built two huge Douglas fir frames to provide extra display space. The adjoining lounge is for showing and storing her work. At least when it's not on loan at the LA Artcore Center or the Jerusalem Artists' House.