It should come as no surprise that native Angelenos Jamie Price and Bradford Schlei should build a bright, airy contemporary dwelling in the wooded Santa Monica enclave of Rustic Canyon. Jamie’s nearby childhood home was designed by the legendary architect Ray Kappe (Bradford lived in a residence by another lion of L.A. architecture, Paul R. Williams), and she grew up playing at the neighborhood park. “I always felt like the area had a bit of magic to it with the overgrown trees and streams,” she says.
In creating a home for themselves, the couple wanted to capture the feeling of light and space and of living among the trees. “This property brought all of that together,” Jamie says. They turned to architect Duncan Nicholson, of Nicholson Architects. Tragically, Nicholson, a protÃ©gÃ© of the great John Lautner, fell terminally ill toward the end of the schematic design process. Before his death, he passed the torch to his associates, Kristopher Conner and James Perry. “A lot of the design essence was there,” notes Perry. Conner adds, “The spatial layout of house and aesthetic was generally established, but we figured out the nuts and bolts and did some redesigning.”
The lush setting–during the early 20th-century, the site had served as a Forest Service test station for eucalyptus trees–inspired the home’s indoor-outdoor concept. “The climate in the canyon is specific,” explains Perry, and allowed for the house to flow around the landscape, yielding outdoor rooms, the organizing principle of the architectural program. “Anywhere you are in the house, you can see into the landscape,” says Conner. Landscape designer Case Fleher also capitalized on the venerable trees for his design. “We kept some but severely manicured them to make space in the front,” he says. Whatever trees they had to cut down were harvested and used for everything from the front door to a fireplace mantel to a series of turned outdoor stools. “We shipped them off to be milled into blocks of wood,” says Mike Robinson, who, along with Dick Minium, served as the general contractors.
Not only did the architects literally incorporate the site’s trees in their design, but they also took inspiration from them for the home’s other components. “As the building progresses upward,” Conner explains, “it transitions from more rusticated, earthen materials such and concrete, weathered steel, and stone, to lighter materials like charred wood, glass, plaster, and copper.”
The effect is nearly allegorical. “The rusticated materials of the base relate to the land and root the building to the earth,” note Conner. “The expanses of wood siding and glass relate to the tone and massing of the tree’s trunk, springing up from the base. And the plaster and copper elements of the dramatic eaves and the skylights and openings throughout the house relate to the tree canopy.” The interior materials, a mix of limestone, French oak flooring, weathered brass, and blackened steel among them, harmonize with those found outside.
As the architectural bones of their new home came together, the couple brought in Olivia Williams and Matthew Merrell to tackle the interior design. “They have a colorful art collection, and personalities, so we needed the house to represent that aspect of who they are,” Merrell says, alluding to works by Adolph Gottlieb, Charlie White, Alexander Calder and others that grace the residence. The designers also wanted to make sure the abode had a classic California feel. Notes Jamie, “Growing up here in the ’80s was magical and that vibe and aesthetic influenced my design taste, so you get a sense of that in the house.”
A top priority for the designers was selecting a palette to complement the home’s blackened wood exterior. An enormous pink Venini chandelier, which they hung above the dining room table, set the tone for the rest of the color scheme. “We chose the Corbusier palette,” says Williams, referring to a collection of shades the architect created. “They give complexity and depth that is not achieved in conventional paints. The paint color changes throughout the day in different light. It all worksÂ harmoniously and quite naturally. It’s special to the house and the clients.”
That singularity infuses every aspect of the home, both inside and out. “There’s a common misconception that Lautner was striving for some consistent style, but it was the opposite of that,” says Conner. “His biggest goal was striving for each project to be unique. That’s what Duncan always talked about, trying to do something original. That’s how we paid tribute to both him and Lautner.”