California tract home’s dramatic transformation into modernist villa

California tract home’s dramatic transformation into modernist villa

Explore the transformation of a modest tract home in California into a modernist-inspired house by Tim Gorter Architect

A modest California tract house has been dramatically transformed into a contemporary residence with modernist influences by Santa Barbara-based practice Tim Gorter Architect. The home, located in Mar Vista, was redesigned by founding principal Tim Gorter and his team, embracing the existing structure with its challenges and opportunities. ‘The client had lived in the property for more than 30 years, [so part of the job was] heightening features they had always appreciated and resolving long-standing frustrations with the original design,’ says Gorter. 

Bringing in natural light to the previously dark, cramped interior was a priority for the team. At the same time, they wanted to infuse the contemporary home with a midcentury aesthetic and modernist principles.

The domestic space would be complemented by a lush architectural garden outside. This was created as a terraced rock garden inspired by karesansui – ‘traditional Japanese landscape gardens meant to be contemplated from a single viewpoint’, say the architects. 

dramatic night view of front entrance at Mar Vista Residence by Tim Gorter Architect

The renovation included significant changes to the building, but these feel entirely at home in the new composition. The architects replaced the old pitched roof with a low-profile, butterfly-wing one, adding subtle drama, while allowing space to create clerestory windows to the sides, which beautifully illuminate the living spaces. These openings also revealed a view of the iconic Hollywood Sign – a vista the owners never knew they had. A new glass and steel volume was added to the front, making room for a home office inside and balancing out the garage on the other side of the home. 

Inside, the fireplace, which could not be moved due to local planning regulations, presented a different challenge; it is sat right in the middle of the space, obstructing views to the rear garden. This got in the way of the open-plan arrangement Gorter had in mind.

The architect tackled it by redesigning the feature into a free-standing sculptural element, citing references of mid-century interiors such as those by Frank Lloyd Wright. Now, finished in basalt stone and a centrepiece in the open-plan living space, the grey fireplace column complements perfectly the interior’s maple wood features, crisp white walls and surrounding greenery, as seen through the expansive, floor-to-ceiling windows. §

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