Design: Michael Folonis, Michael W. Folonis and Associates
Photographs: Claudio Santini
Telluride author Michelle Kodis has brought us some inspiration for turning outdoor spaces from ordinary to extraordinary. The following case study is excerpted from Michelle’s gloriously-illustrated book Ultimate Backyard: Inspired Ideas for Outdoor Living (2006, Gibbs Smith Publisher; reprinted with permission of Gibbs Smith).
Challenge: A narrow, sloping lot on a busy corner and the request for a small house with dramatic indoor/outdoor connections.
Result: A house that wraps around a private courtyard and engages with the outdoors from every room. The owners of this modest one-bedroom house, located just six blocks from the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California, are originally from Wisconsin, where year-round indoor/outdoor living presents obvious climatic challenges. When the couple decided to retire to California, they hired architect Michael Folonis to design a small, low-maintenance house that would frame a view from every window and present opportunities for outdoor connections at every corner.
Aside from these initial challenges, Folonis also had to contend with a narrow, sloping site and a busy corner location. Folonis responded with a streamlined 1,300-square-foot building organized into three sections: a carport, guest room and bath on the lowest part of the slope, followed by an art gallery, patio and garden in the center of the building, and a kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom on the highest part of the site. The sections progress up the slope in two-step increments, and the house as a whole turns its back on the street, wrapping around an inner courtyard on the less-exposed side of the property.
Clear physical connections to the outdoors can be found in every interior space of the house. The central art gallery opens completely to the courtyard and garden through large sliding glass doors, fostering a lightness and transparency that are underscored with a delicate steel trellis attached to the roof overhang.
For the exterior, Folonis chose simple materials with a focus on uncolored smooth trowel finish stucco, concrete block and expanses of glass to enhance the building’s passive solar properties. The concrete absorbs heat, the windows welcome sunlight and the sliding doors ventilate the interiors.
The house turns its back on the busy street, wrapping around a private courtyard on the less-exposed side of the property. The primary exterior materials are a combination of charcoal-grey concrete block and uncolored smooth steel trowel finish stucco.
A wide expanse of glass fronts the art gallery, and sliding glass doors can be pulled back to join the room to the courtyard. A steel trellis, attached to the extended roof overhang, helps screen the gallery from sunlight.
The transparent qualities of the house are even more pronounced in this view from the kitchen to the art gallery.
“The theme of this house is transparency,” Folonis says. “The configuration of articulated spaces, each of which embraces the outdoor environment, in many ways makes indoor and outdoor living one and the same.”