Vienna Way Residence
Marmol Radziner connects California's landscape and architecture in the Vienna Way Residence.
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During its 20 years of designing, renovating, and building houses mostly in Southern California, Marmol Radziner + Associates has soaked up a rich tradition of Modernism and interpreted it in a series of projects that engage nature as an instrument of architecture. Channeling the spirits of Wright, Schindler, and Neutra, Leo Marmol, FAIA, and Ron Radziner, FAIA, have created buildings that embody the easy-living ideal we thought disappeared from sunny California with the onslaught of sprawl and McMansions. The Vienna Way Residence, which Radziner designed for himself and his family, distills this legacy of graceful indoor-outdoor living to its let’s-have-breakfast-by-the-pool essence. Visiting it in February makes even the most die-hard New York editor contemplate moving west.
Radziner, who grew up in the Silverlake and Encino areas of Los Angeles, found the large (65-by-175-foot) lot on Vienna Way in Venice, California, just a block and a half from the house he had finished for his family in 2002. Although his wife, Robin Cottle, and their two children loved the old house, Radziner saw the big lot as a chance to push his ideas of weaving indoors and out even further than before, and honing the “conceptual clarity” of the architecture.
He sliced the property lengthwise into thirds, placing a one-story wing along the south edge and a two-story wing along the north. In the middle, he built a sunken kitchen pavilion connecting the two wings and laid out a sequence of outdoor elements that includes a lap pool and a garden planted with wetland species such as wild grasses and sycamores. Sliding the one-story wing toward the street, he put the public rooms—entry, living, and dining—here, while reserving the two-story wing for more private spaces: a family room and Cottle’s office on the ground floor, and bedrooms above.
To maintain privacy from the neighboring houses on either side, the Vienna Way Residence presents mostly solid, plaster elevations on the north and south with only bands of clerestory windows to bring in light. The two wings, which are each just one 18-foot-room wide, open to the pool and garden running up the middle of the lot. Floor-to-ceiling glass, much of it sliding panels, makes the interiors feel like extensions of the outdoor spaces. Blurring the distinction further, a pair of outdoor rooms—one tucked behind the dining room and the other in front of the family room—offer covered but not enclosed spaces for eating or relaxing, complete with outdoor fireplaces. Yellow-tinted skylights deeply recessed in the roof above the outdoor dining room cast a warm, golden glow even on a cloudy winter day.
The kitchen pavilion, set a few steps below the house’s two wings, seems to float in the landscape—looking to the pool in front and the garden in the back. Radziner eliminated all high cabinets to keep the views uninterrupted, and wrapped the cupboards, counters, and even the ceiling with black American walnut to add warmth to the room. “The kitchen is the hub of the house,” explains Cottle, a graphic designer. “I can see everything from here.” While the two wings are wood-frame structures, the kitchen works as a steel cage resisting sheer forces and holding all of the pieces together.
Marmol Radziner builds about 80 percent of its projects, serving as general contractor and fabricating most of the building components in its own shops. So in addition to being both the client and the architect, Radziner oversaw construction. “The control is nice,” says Radziner. “It allows us the chance to get real clarity of purpose and design. The budget provides the constraints, forcing us to make choices.”
At 4,100 square feet, the Vienna Way Residence is about 1,500 square feet bigger than the family’s last house, and Cottle at first feared it might be too extravagant for them. “But once we moved in, the scale felt right, and each room has its own particular relationship with the outdoors,” she says. “Proportion and rhythm are critical to Southern California homes,” explains Radziner. “They’re not about symmetry. They’re about movement—horizontal space pushing out.”
Having renovated or expanded a number of classic Midcentury Modern houses in California—including ones by Wright, Neutra, Schindler, and May—Radziner has learned from the masters. The sunken kitchen at the Vienna Way Residence was inspired by the sunken garden at Schindler’s Kings Road House in West Hollywood, says Radziner. And from Neutra’s Kaufmann House in Palm Desert, he borrowed the idea of creating tension between the horizontal and the vertical. “When Neutra built the house in 1946, there was nothing there, just flat desert. But he created sharp edges and boundaries with the architecture,” says Radziner. “I tried to do that here in Venice.”