Dennis Gibbens builds himself a home for all Los Angeles to see
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 11/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Dennis Gibbens may be one of the best-kept secrets in Los Angeles. Attribute his under-the-radar status to his clients, A-listers such as actress Debra Messing who are determined to keep their private residences just that. But Gibbens has no qualms about throwing open the doors of his own place on Venice's still-funky Abbot Kinney Boulevard. His skills in designing architecture with extraordinary spatial and object qualities are visible at a glance. So is his appreciation of decor. He's fearless when it comes to finding pieces and mixing them up.
If the apartment's layout produces a sensation of déjà vu among Gibbens aficionados, that's because he replicated the courtyard configuration of his former home, just blocks away. However, this duplex, at 3,500 square feet, is larger, more elaborate, and denser with materials. And its location, a ground-up three-story building, represents Gibbens's first foray into the real-estate arena.
In keeping with Abbot Kinney's shop culture, he divided the ground level into a four-car garage in back and a 600-square-foot retail space in front. Then he handpicked the tenant: Tortoise General Store, a gallery selling international contemporary design and Japanese arts and crafts and mounting the occasional art exhibition. Only from across the street does one get hints of a residence above. A 20-foot-wide opening in the board-formed concrete facade frames a glimpse of the balcony off the living room. Farther back and higher up, a white stucco parapet with a porthole hints at the roof deck behind.
Tucked alongside Tortoise's front window, a gray-painted steel gate swings in to reveal an open-air stairway. "There was to be no small ground-level foyer and interior stair," Gibbens states. "Visiting Barcelona inspired the design." The ascent terminates at the central courtyard, surrounded on three sides by the glass walls and sliding door of the apartment's lower level.
The courtyard offers visual clues to interior organization without entirely giving it away. Step inside, and everything becomes clear and simple. The roughly U-shape space comprises front and rear areas unified by white terrazzo, its mica flecks sparkly against gutsy walls of more board-formed concrete.
Gibbens thinks the street-fronting living room is the proper setting for "parties, musical evenings, screenings, or lectures—I almost kept it empty." That didn't last long. Not when he found an American root table, circa 1960, a groovy red fiberglass ottoman by Naoto Fukasawa, and vintage French upholstered chairs to accompany the baby grand piano. After all, guests need to be comfortable when viewing La Dolce Vita, Gibbens's favorite film, on the ovoid screen he designed to complement the curved ceiling.
A short corridor connects the living room with the multipurpose space to the rear of the courtyard. Dense with eye candy, the dining area features Patricia Urquiola's white glass-topped table and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec's pinstriped blue-gray chairs, set beneath a three-armed David Weeks chandelier. Nearby, cream-glazed ceramic vases form a Giorgio Morandi—esque composition on the top of a built-in credenza that extends into the open kitchen. Behind its generous island is what could be one of the most refined pantries ever: a storage wall in dark-stained zebrawood. This cabinetry extends, in turn, into a sitting area anchored by a wood-burning fireplace's white marble mantelpiece.
For furnishings here, Gibbens was largely a locavore. With good reason. Right on Abbot Kinney, he scored a 1970's cocktail table that looks like a flying saucer, plus a skinny contemporary floor lamp. He had to drive only 10 miles east to La Brea Avenue to pick up the considerably less precious cowhide rug from a street vendor. He did, however, go the showroom route for a pair of Alfredo Häberli swivel chairs and footstools in heavily distressed leather—think beloved motorcycle jacket. (The other set is in the living room.)
The initial view of the top level comes from below, courtesy of a tempered-glass insert in the sitting area's ceiling, aka the floor of the hallway connecting the two bedrooms to the study, an additional bathroom, and the roof deck. Full disclosure: Once up the cherrywood stairs, we leaped across the hall rather than stepping on the glass. Gibbens laughed. "I intended to add a sense of danger," he quips.
On a practical note, the glass insert was his way of allowing the lower level to benefit from the circular skylights in the upper hallway. Another skylight, in the master bathroom, lets the sun shine down onto the marble and concrete walls. Most striking of all is the master bedroom's ceiling. Gibbens punched it up to 15 feet and capped it with an aperture inspired by the mesmerizing Skyspaces of James Turrell.
Photography by Benny Chan/Fotoworks.
FROM FRONT MOLTENI & C: TABLE (DINING AREA). LIGNE ROSET: CHAIRS. DAVID WEEKS STUDIO: CHANDELIER. CAESARSTONE: CONSOLE SOLID-SURFACING (DINING AREA), ISLAND SOLID-SURFACING (KITCHEN). THROUGH CHARLES JACOBSEN: ALTAR TABLE (DINING AREA), SCHOLAR'S CHAIR (SITTING AREA). MAHARAM: CURTAIN FABRIC (STAIRWELL). MOROSO THROUGH JULES SELTZER ASSOCIATES: SWIVEL CHAIRS, FOOTSTOOLS (LIVING ROOM, SITTING AREA). THROUGH GALERIE SOMMERLATH: COCKTAIL TABLE (LIVING ROOM), TABLE, LAMP (SITTING AREA). MAGIS: CHAIRS (COURTYARD). THROUGH JULES SELTZER ASSOCIATES: TABLE. DORNBRACHT: SINK FITTINGS (KITCHEN). ARTEK: LOUNGE CHAIR (SITTING AREA). THROUGH IN-EX: OTTOMAN. VALENTI: SCONCE. DRIADE: OTTOMAN (LIVING ROOM). WATERWORKS: TILE (GUEST BATHROOM). TOTO: TOILET. KOHLER CO.: TUB. HANSGROHE: TUB FITTINGS, SHOWER FITTINGS (GUEST BATHROOM), TUB FITTINGS (MASTER BATHROOM). WETSTYLE: TUB (MASTER BATHROOM). KARTELL: STOOL. GLEN RAVEN: CUSHION FABRIC, PILLOW FABRIC (DECK). CLAUDIA BENVENUTO INTERIOR DESIGN: CUSTOM BOLSTER (MASTER BEDROOM). THROUGH PLANTATION: LAMP. CAPPELLINI THROUGH TORTOISE GENERAL STORE: CHAIR. THROUGHOUT LUCIFER LIGHTING COMPANY: CEILING FIXTURES. SILISTAR THROUGH ARESYS: FLOOR TILE.