The design of the West Los Angeles Residence begins with the story of its inhabitants. Two families had become one, and they needed a space that could meet the needs of their new family. The architect and owner Clive Wilkinson had two young children, and his wife Elisabeth had a 13-year-old daughter. The kids all needed separate rooms – individual spaces for personal growth within this new merged family. The chosen hillside location provides vertical space separation, allowing each floor to be employed for a different purpose. The ground floor includes the three children’s rooms and a studio; the middle floor holds the master bedroom and a guest bedroom; and the top floor is the large communal space that brings the family together.
An inspiration for the house was the iconic modern houses of Los Angeles that seem to float above the city like spaceships on stilts, perched within the backbone of hills that shape the LA Basin. Wilkinson had yearned for the slightly surreal opportunity of designing his own floating home and finally came across the chance to do so when he found a steep West Los Angeles site for sale in 2016. However, the existing house was so overgrown that one could only see the view below from an adjacent public walkway. Once the site was cleared, the view revealed itself and it became clear that the architecture needed to respond directly to the spectacular scenery of the vast urban landscape below.
Matching the two-story scale of its neighbors, the house is entered from the rear street and visitors descend into the front entry terrace. From there, they are drawn upstairs to a full-width balcony overlooking the city. The living floor is open on its south side and expressed as a large beamed attic space formed entirely in wood, with walls and ceiling of sand-blasted Douglas Fir and flooring in wide plank White Oak. Kitchen, dining and living co-exist, orienting to the south. At the rear is the enclosed Library with custom black steel shelving, which doubles as a media room. The exterior of this top floor volume is clad in black zinc panels, emphasizing its role as the crow’s nest, or observatory, of the house.
The lower floors hold five bedrooms and five bathrooms, as well as a den and small gym. The children’s rooms open onto the stone-tiled infinity pool terrace and garden, which extends down the hill. The steep site provides three distinct social spaces: the living attic, the pool deck, and the garden terrace. The separate levels address the varying needs of the family, as both children and adults have their own territories but can come together for social, recreational and dining needs.
With rough enclosing walls of sand-blasted concrete wrapping the first two floors, the house is nestled into the hill and thermally insulated. Lighting was a vital design element – the fully programmable and customizable LED system allows control of every fixture, offering a planned circadian rhythm program that sees the house gradually responding to bright cool sunlight during the day and warm candlelight coloration at night. These gradient changes make for highly responsive mood environments that both energize and relax the occupants.
Several eco-friendly features were installed on site. These range from a water retention system that stores stormwater in rain barrels and a large water retention basin, to instant gas water heaters, energy-efficient lighting, on-site water filtration, natural cross ventilation and a highly insulated building shell that rarely needs heating or cooling.