The back door doesn’t have to be a dead end. These two remodels
show how homeowners overcame problems of space, siting, overheating, and
just plain anonymity by turning the backs of their houses into outdoor
The misfortune of a due-south orientaion in Southern
California’s often-hot San Fernando Valley prompted the first
solution: a lofty house-wide shade lanai.
Tight space in a boxy bungalow that was closed off to its back
yard, and wasted space in its decrepit garage, occasioned the
transformation shown on the facing page: a bold statement with Pompeiian
overtones. Making over a Sherman Oaks tract house–for $15,000
Architect Bouje Bernkopf of Woodland Hills faced a challenge
familiar to anyone remodeling tract houses: to alter a badly sited,
unimaginatively designed house so it would be much more pleasant to live
in and more energy-efficient. His clients, a young family, had $15,000
to spend, including a complete interior remodeling. Though dark, the
house had serious sun-control problems. This raised the question: how
do you get more sunlight without getting more heat?
Extending the roof to cover the south-facing patio (along with
superinsulating the ceiling and south wall) was the answer. The new
roof was designed to shade the house wall in the hot months of springs,
summer, and fall–so the wall could be opened up with a bank of glass
Sloping 1-by-2s over pairs of 2-by-6s form the structural covering.
Above the 1-by-2s, fiberglass roofing sandwiches light-diffusing reed
screening. There’s mutual benefit here: the fiberglass holds and
protects the reed screening, while the reeds disguise the fiberglass.
Bernkopf’s detailing works well with the tropical touches that
were retained from the original yard–a small grove of Canary Island
date palms, California fan palms, and the light-colored pool.
Cascades of asparagus fern (A. sprengeri) now trail from an
overhead planter, watered by a timer-controlled drip system. As the
photograph at lower center shows, low-voltage accent lighting is built
into the planter box.
Light brown stain covers the trelis structure and the horizontally
applied siding. In Santa Cruz, borrowing a design solution from
Nancy Hammond’s Mediterranean-style 1920s tract house in Santa
Cruz also suffered from familiar problems: a tiny, dark kitchen and a
small bedroom at the back were isolated from the back yard by an abrupt,
characterless back door and stoop.
Her immediate needs were a bigger kitchen and an extra bedroom and
bath. Oakland architects David Weingarten and Lucia Howard of Ace
Architects planned these into the 500-square-foot addition. They
oriented both main rooms to the garden by opening them to a new atrium
and porch, patterned after outdoor galleries traditional in Pompeiian
The small, skylight-covered atrium lies between kitchen, bedroom,
and porch. It opens to the driveway on the south. Running half the
width of the house, it functions as a kind of outdoor hall.
“We treated the entire addition as a garden house,” say
the architects. “We wrapped dark green latticework over the
neutral gray of the exterior walls, so that the addition resembles part
of some exotic gazebo.” They’re referring to the grid of
2-by-2s that was nailed to the plywood-covered walls; bougainvillea will
eventually spread over much of it, producing even more of a garden
The porch roof, supported by 4-by-6 posts, 4-by-12 beams, and
2-by-8 joists, rises 30 inches above the house’s flat roof and
connects with the top of the wrap-around parapet walls. This difference
in roof levels allowed high cutouts in the east-facing porch wall,
admitting morning sun under the porch roof.