2010 CH+D Award for Residential Architecture (More Than 3,000 Sq. Ft.): John Friedman and Alice Kimm

There is a house in Santa Monica that defies every notion of the modern contemporary home. Instead of straight lines, natural wood siding, taupe plaster walls, architects John Friedman and Alice Kimm tossed those tenets out the window and came up with a fresh, lively approach to suburban living. Forget neutrals: The exterior, dappled in a chartreuse-and-white pattern, offers the visual enticements of a retail storefront. And forget about the typical floorplan: The main living area and bedrooms look directly out to a busy neighborhood intersection.

“We gave our clients several options, but they picked the layout that was absolutely the most open,” says Kimm. “It takes a special attitude to go for something like this.” The architects give a lot of credit to the Kings—he works for a nonprofit as a communications director, she’s a landscape designer—for taking the design to this extreme.

But it helped that Friedman and Kimm, a Los Angeles–based husband-and-wife team, knew how to get people’s attention. They got their start in 1999 with their shimmering design for Club Sugar in Santa Monica, and then received national attention for transforming warehouses in South L.A. into the L.A. Design Center. The Kings saw one of their residences, the Ehrlich House, and were so taken by it, they slipped a note under the door asking for the architect’s name.

The Kings were looking to build on a site in the Santa Monica neighborhood of Sunset Park. The wedge-shaped
corner lot had a long side bordering a moderately busy thoroughfare and a short side on a quiet side street. The most obvious choice would have been to orient the house to face the side street and erect a tall fence along the road to enclose a large backyard. But in the novel plan proposed by Friedman and Kimm, the L-shaped, 4,300-square-foot house faces the busier street, with a glass-fronted living room and upstairs bedrooms oriented toward the intersection. A simple concrete wall runs along the main street, but gives way to an informal hedge along the side street. “Instead of the typical front yard-backyard relationship, this house has only a big yard in front that is open to the corner. It engages with the community and the intersection in a pretty unique way,” says Friedman.

In addition to its shape, the house’s exterior, which was intended to evoke light glinting off ocean waves, is also visually distinctive. For Friedman and Kimm, the patterned exterior has become a signature of sorts, a way to break up big building masses. “So much modern architecture is serious and brooding,” says Friedman. “We like to use joyful colors and patterns.” The painted siding is accented with vertical ipe screening, and a square reflecting pool set flush into the concrete patio introduces another natural element to the mix.

The house transitions gracefully from indoors to out, with a series of patios and a large shared terrace off the upstairs bedrooms. The terrace—Kimm calls it “the outdoor family room”—is where the couple and their two kids hang out and watch the airplanes from LAX and the ocean in the distance. From here, the clients’ teenage sons can call out to their friends across the way—the modern equivalent of the old-fashioned front porch. “This is a very active family, where people are coming and going a lot,” says Friedman.

Downstairs, the open floor plan connects the living room with the kitchen, which has an island for casual entertaining. Around the corner from the main space, a separate dining room provides a more intimate alternative to the great room while maintaining the house’s casual flow; it opens on both ends to outdoor patios. A few steps down from the dining room, a “hangout room,” outfitted with a TV and games, provides a separate yet proximate space for the kids to gather during dinner parties.

The architects added a final element of surprise in the living room: A wall of built-in cabinetry turns out to be a two-sided divider that separates the space from the office. (Erin King, who runs her landscape design firm from home, can greet clients at the door from her desk.) A sliding panel can be drawn across for privacy. The architects also designed a custom display nook that cantilevers out from the fireplace. In it sits a glass fish sculpture, which appears to hover in mid-air by the front door. This welcoming note is highly appropriate for a home that embraces the idea of transparency so completely, upturning the stereotype of the isolated suburban house. “The design of the house really encourages community and lets them live their open, active life,” says Friedman.

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