Sherman Oaks: they added a lofty, ferny trellis just out the back door, an outdoor room and a startling new look Essay

The back door doesn’t have to be a dead end. These two remodelsshow how homeowners overcame problems of space, siting, overheating, andjust plain anonymity by turning the backs of their houses into outdoorrooms. The misfortune of a due-south orientaion in SouthernCalifornia’s often-hot San Fernando Valley prompted the firstsolution: a lofty house-wide shade lanai. Tight space in a boxy bungalow that was closed off to its backyard, and wasted space in its decrepit garage, occasioned thetransformation shown on the facing page: a bold statement with Pompeiianovertones. Making over a Sherman Oaks tract house–for $15,000 Architect Bouje Bernkopf of Woodland Hills faced a challengefamiliar to anyone remodeling tract houses: to alter a badly sited,unimaginatively designed house so it would be much more pleasant to livein and more energy-efficient. His clients, a young family, had $15,000to spend, including a complete interior remodeling.

Though dark, thehouse had serious sun-control problems. This raised the question: howdo you get more sunlight without getting more heat? Extending the roof to cover the south-facing patio (along withsuperinsulating the ceiling and south wall) was the answer. The newroof 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 glassdoors. Sloping 1-by-2s over pairs of 2-by-6s form the structural covering.

Above the 1-by-2s, fiberglass roofing sandwiches light-diffusing reedscreening. There’s mutual benefit here: the fiberglass holds andprotects the reed screening, while the reeds disguise the fiberglass. Bernkopf’s detailing works well with the tropical touches thatwere retained from the original yard–a small grove of Canary Islanddate palms, California fan palms, and the light-colored pool. Cascades of asparagus fern (A. sprengeri) now trail from anoverhead planter, watered by a timer-controlled drip system. As thephotograph at lower center shows, low-voltage accent lighting is builtinto the planter box.

Light brown stain covers the trelis structure and the horizontallyapplied siding. In Santa Cruz, borrowing a design solution fromantiquity Nancy Hammond’s Mediterranean-style 1920s tract house in SantaCruz also suffered from familiar problems: a tiny, dark kitchen and asmall 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 andbath. Oakland architects David Weingarten and Lucia Howard of AceArchitects planned these into the 500-square-foot addition. Theyoriented both main rooms to the garden by opening them to a new atriumand porch, patterned after outdoor galleries traditional in Pompeiianvillas.

The small, skylight-covered atrium lies between kitchen, bedroom,and porch. It opens to the driveway on the south. Running half thewidth of the house, it functions as a kind of outdoor hall.

“We treated the entire addition as a garden house,” saythe architects. “We wrapped dark green latticework over theneutral gray of the exterior walls, so that the addition resembles partof some exotic gazebo.” They’re referring to the grid of2-by-2s that was nailed to the plywood-covered walls; bougainvillea willeventually spread over much of it, producing even more of a gardenfeeling.

The porch roof, supported by 4-by-6 posts, 4-by-12 beams, and2-by-8 joists, rises 30 inches above the house’s flat roof andconnects with the top of the wrap-around parapet walls. This differencein roof levels allowed high cutouts in the east-facing porch wall,admitting morning sun under the porch roof.

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