Photo by Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects, original photo on Houzz
Photo by Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects, original photo on Houzz

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Using moves he picked up while living in Africa, architect Steven Ehrlich designed his home to fit the skinny lots and sunny climate of his neighborhood near Venice Beach. The house is just a few blocks from lively Abbot Kinney Boulevard and the ocean. “It’s so much fun to be part of a walking community in LA,” he says. “We can pop out for coffee, shopping or a bite to eat, and all of the activity of the boardwalk and beach is only [a half-mile] away.”

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Houzz at a Glance

  • Who lives here: Steven Ehrlich and his wife, Nancy Griffin
  • Location: Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles
  • Size: Main house of 2,800 square feet; three bedrooms, 2½bathrooms. Guesthouse-garage of 1,200 square; one bedroom, two bathrooms
  • Designer: Steven Ehrlich of Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects
  • That’s interesting: While teaching in Nigeria, Ehrlich designed a theater made of mud for the drama department.

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In designing a home for one of Venice’s typically long and narrow lots, Ehrlich recalled lessons he’d learned from the local architecture of Nigeria and the courtyard layout of houses in the medinas in Morocco. He calls his approach “multicultural modernism.” The result is a house that takes advantage of the climate and that uses natural systems and technology to boost the home’s efficiency.

The entire site plan responds to every inch of the 132-by-43-foot lot, which contained three beautiful mature trees. Ehrlich made sure to lay out the property to not only save them but also incorporate them into the design, which has three courtyards. The design also responds to the greater community. He stepped the upper floors back from the street out of respect for the many one-story bungalows in the neighborhood. A large steel exoskeleton stretches past the house’s elevation, uniting indoor and outdoor spaces. On the right, a guesthouse-garage provides an extra bedroom suite, a laundry room and a gallery-like space.

The elevation steps up away from the sidewalk (seen here from left to right) so that its height and volumes respect the streetscape. From the left we see the pool, the mezzanine level and its deck, and the master suite and terrace on top.

The home doesn’t have air conditioning; instead its ventilation design makes the most of cross breezes. Pivoting glass doors off the dining area open to one of the home’s courtyards. The large expanse of glass you see on the far end of the house also opens to let the breeze go through.

Ehrlich carried the material palette through the inside, outside and on the walls around the property. He paid extra attention to using sustainable materials. The siding is Trex, which is usually used for decking, and is made up of recycled sawdust and plastic. The steel is Cor-Ten, whose rusty patina changes over time. Concrete blocks show up inside and out. Concrete floors throughout the first floor provide radiant heat during the colder months and help keep things cool during the summer.

A wall along the property’s perimeter helps create Ehrlich’s somewhat inside-out take on Moroccan homes that open to hidden courtyards. The wall is composed of Trex; concrete blocks matching the ones inside the house; and Lumasite, a translucent combination of fiberglass and acrylic.

To control temperature, light and privacy, Ehrlich used a dynamic system of sunshades mounted across the top and down the long street side of the exoskeleton. See This “Multicultural Modern” Home in Action on Houzz TV.

The motorized shades dramatically change and enliven the facade. Ehrlich fell in love with this vibrant color combination of burnt sienna and yellow ocher while serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco; the colors were inspired by the wool-dyeing souks in Marrakech. They also work well with the colors of the rusted Cor-Ten steel.

“The added benefit of this design, because of its scale, is that it also transforms the pool area into a spatially exciting new space,” Ehrlich says. “The fact that the shades can move also means that
there are multiple options of not only sun control but of spatial quality.”

“The shades can control the amount of direct sunlight penetrating into the house from the southwest elevation,” Ehrlich says. “When the shades are on the exterior of the house, it is a very effective sun-control method.”

Inside, the first floor has a wide-open plan from one end to the other. Expansive glass doors open to courtyards at both ends, extending to the outdoor living spaces.

“When the house is closed, it can be quite cozy on a cold and rainy night,” Ehrlich says. “When everything is opened up, the house transforms into something more like a pavilion.”

The living room has its own courtyard on the opposite side of the plan from the dining room. The 16-by-16-foot glass expanse completely opens to the courtyard and the view of one of two mature Aleppo pines. Minimal detailing and the continuity of materials blur the line between indoors and out, whether the doors are closed or open.

Ehrlich designed the sofa and coffee table himself; furniture with strong horizontal lines and planes reinforces the lines of the architecture. The vintage Boomerang chairs are by iconic California modernist Richard Neutra. The house serves as a gallery for the couple’s impressive collection of art and objects from around the world. Chairs That Make a Statement.

The kitchen is tucked under one of the mezzanine level’s bedroom “pods.” It has easy access to the grilling area in the outdoor space.

The mezzanine pods have views to the lower-level rooms, staircase and glass bridge, courtesy of interior sliding glass windows.

The mezzanine-level bridge connects to a second staircase up to the master suite. This long landing provides a unique experience of the space between the two floors.

“It’s like you’re floating as you walk across the glass,” Ehrlich says.

Large openings to the outdoors ventilate the master suite naturally. The suite also has its own private terrace.

The moving sunshades create different views from the master bathroom. Waterproof plaster reflects light and protects the room from moisture.

The home feels like a living, breathing entity, thanks to the combination of the movable
sunshades, the Cor-Ten steel’s changing patina, the large openings, and the attention paid to sustainable materials and systems. The location in this funky and lively beach community suits the couple’s lifestyle, and entices their grown children and many other family members and friends to visit. What’s the Right Window Treatment for Your Space?

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