Design Justice is Served

Some might say the way the house that previously sat on this Hollywood Hills lot underplayed the view of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean was architecturally criminal. The decision to tear it down was easy to make, but erecting a house that serves design justice to the fabulous view was not as simple.

Challenges are faced head-on at Bonura Building in Los Angeles, so fitting a new home on the oddly shaped existing foundation was not an insurmountable hurdle. “I enjoy all those challenges, even the most mundane,” says Joshua Frank, project architect. “Working within the parameters of what the client wants, and coming out with what you as the designer want aesthetically, is rewarding.”

The geometry of the demolished home’s foundation created design challenges in terms of making rooms regular in shape, Frank says. “A lot of the space planning was conceived without actual walls and doors defining spaces. So we defined spaces with ceiling height changes. That in turn helped the layout of the furniture in that large open space where we defined about three different rooms.”

To pardon the demolished home’s crime of short-changing the view off the rear of the house, the line between inside and outside is defined by a wall that isn’t really there. A series of Fleetwood pocketing sliding doors makes the rear wall of the house virtually disappear, extending the living space out and onto the deck, and serving justice to the glorious view. Creating the illusion of more living space was necessary to compensate for the comparatively small size of the home at 4,400 sq. ft., roughly half that of neighboring homes.

“We had some problems getting the doors to pocket into the wall. At one point the owner wanted them on a motor to make them automatic, but there are no headers, which they call flat framing. That leaves no space for motors, or pockets to hide a motor. That was one situation where we had to tell a client they couldn’t have what they wanted,” Frank explains.
A cantilever system supports the rear half of the roof which opens up the rear of the house. A structural engineer designed the cantilever system which is supported by massive beams that penetrate the living space. At the top of these beams are skylights on all sides that create the effect of a roof that is not connected to the house (see the right).

Through the sliding doors and onto the pool deck, another challenge awaited the Bonura team. The back yard is a tight area under a code restriction of only one 12-ft. retaining wall, says Jeff Vasquez, senior supervisor. “A shower overhangs the hillside, and the deck and spa area next to that took a lot of work and planning to get done. There are a lot of pool controls and mechanicals underneath the deck,” Vasquez explains.

Grand Entrance

By far, the front façade and entryway are the Bonura team’s favorite elements of the house. But as with other parts of the house, building the vision was not easy. The front façade was on a diagonal to a cul de sac, and the owners wanted to maximize as much of the front space as possible, says C.J. Bonura, architect. The interior designer, who also created the floor plan, approached Bonura with a plan for the front of the house that included an S-curve that conformed to the cul de sac contour. The result matched the vision almost precisely, Bonura says.

The S-curve to the front façade created a small, odd-shaped space for the home’s entry, and ended up as the most dramatic part of the home, Frank says (see picture pg. 24). “We tried to design elements so when you walk up the stairs into the house, you have a gigantic 11-ft. cantilevered roof above you. And to each side of that roof, and in front of it, it’s open to the sky. You’re walking on concrete with water to each side that makes it seem like the concrete is floating on water. Then there’s the travertine landing which begins inside and projects through the glass front door.”

Design Evolution

Elements such as the main entry evolved rather than simply being reproduced from paper, Frank says. “I wouldn’t describe the work as having a vision and trying to achieve it. There was a lot of evolution. So as not to stop creativity, we needed to be open to eureka moments like the skylights. Those didn’t come up until halfway through the design process. In terms of aesthetic vision, even the designers’ and client’s own vision were augmented and evolved as the design of the project came alive in a collaborative process,” he adds.

Projects can’t evolve without a client who understands that evolution costs money. The best clients understand this, and those who do things “on the cheap” wonder why their home doesn’t look good when they’ve scrimped on the nice finishes, Vasquez says. “The results show. If a client wants to back you financially, that really helps make things look good.”

The benefit of Bonura’s design/build services is real-time feasibility information, Bonura says. “Designs are conceived of, priced for viability, and implemented days later, rather than weeks later. Mark [Schomisch], Josh, Jeff and I worked well together, so any design ideas were approved almost immediately, and built quickly. The beauty of designing and pricing at the same time is everyone knows what they’re getting into.”

The Bonura team agrees the design-on-the-fly design/build process made it possible to meet deadlines and meet challenges.

“Design/build is good for building because architecture cannot be figured out exactly; it’s not a science. There’s a lot of back and forth, especially with custom homes,” Vasquez says.

This project would not have worked without the design/build process, Frank says, but it also takes an extremely open-minded client, and one that can trust the architect and builder to make it work out the best.