Contemporary California Living: Norwich Drive Residence

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The Norwich Drive Residence features inspiring design and novel use of materials, the personal home of architect Clive Wilkinson, located in West Hollywood, California. The 3,300 square foot house was designed by the architect with the need to address two separate issues. From an urban design perspective, it needed to conform to City of West Hollywood design guidelines and fit into a small scale residential neighborhood, at the same time as transitioning in scale from the adjacent commercial strip of Melrose Avenue. In response to interest from friends, it also needed to provide a kind of prototype for an economical ‘starter urban house’ that would accommodate the new young urbanite lifestyle.

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The second goal was complicated by specific site conditions: the lot was a non-standard trapezoidal form, widening towards the rear, as well as having a commercial building to the north that overlooked the site.

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In an effort to reduce the house to a set of essential ideas, responses to existing conditions began to set the pattern of the house. The mass to the street was broken down allowing a single story over the garage and roof terrace. It was possible to screen the front yard with greenery, so an olive grove was planted up to the street. On entering the front gate, a visitor can see the full depth of the site – from the olive grove, through the glazed living room, to the rear yard and swimming pool – which enlarges the scale of the house. The living room is compressed in height, but opens to the two-story kitchen/dining room. All links between rooms are articulated on the diagonal with openings in corners, which again enlarges the sense of space.

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The house addresses contemporary California living. There is one unified social space – the heart of the house – comprising living, dining and kitchen. Bedrooms are simple spaces re-convertible into studio or office type uses, especially the upstairs front room which is divided with a sliding wall. The master bedroom is located on the ground to emphasize a separation from the outside world (no views over the neighborhood) and a close link to the heart of the house. It has open bath and dressing areas, and a concealed video projection system for watching TV or movies in bed. The bathroom has a freestanding bath that opens to the pool via sliding doors, and the shower has double glass doors that allow wet bathers to shower directly after swimming without wetting the interior. Video projection is also used in the living room.

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The building is a smooth stucco box – a vernacular LA type – with the living areas opening up to the exterior via large sliding glass doors. The house’s environmental performance is passive and uses basic sustainability ideas: electrically operated skylights exhaust hot air using a chimney effect in the double height space – and keep warm air inside during winter, insulation is optimized, underfloor heating is provided on ground level and the outside landscape uses a low water xeriscape approach, with a mostly gravel ground cover suitable for the desert location. From another sustainable viewpoint, the house is located in walking distance of the owner’s office, as well as walking distance of about 35 restaurants and bars, reducing car use considerably.

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There is a raw expression of structure throughout the house – ceilings are exposed diagonal wood sheathing with a sprayed insulation roof on top. Floors are either smooth concrete, or wide plank quarter sawn oak, or white rubber stud. Walls are white drywall. Clive Wilkinson uses color and creative expression in many of his projects, but the intention here was to avoid expression and achieve a house that was both a simple art studio, which allowed the mind to wander without associations, and an adaptable place to socialize with friends.

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Photos: Benny Chan, Fotoworks

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