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"Treehouse" for a Los Angeles slope.

It climbs up to make the most of garden areas, interior spaces, light, and views

This house greets you squarely at the curb, but that's where the obvious ends. It twists, turns, climbs, and stretches to make the most of its garden areas, interior spaces, natural light, and views. Los Angeles architect Melinda Payne gave careful study to her sloping 50- by 88-foot site. It mature trees (protected by community covenant), as well as her desire to maximize outdoor play space for her son, led to a design that hugs the setback along one side of the property. Above a two-car garage sunk into the slope, Payne stacked up a 2,250-square-foot house. Angling of rooms and canny placement of windows, doors, and skylights helped her integrate the house with its landscape while also capturing seaward views.

The goal: a treehouse-townhouse

The plan at right orients the house from the garden side, where Payne located the entry. To reach it from street level, she laid steps up the lushly planted bank. Heavy timbers form arches at the bottom and top of the stairway to support bowers of bougainvillea and wisteria. For the transition between garden and interior, Payne used a glass-walled entry framed with clear fir 4-by-4s. The entry opens onto the living room; a dining area, kitchen, and family room fill out the remainder of the ground floor. Focal point of the living room is the fireplace wall, with its slate-tiled hearth, 6-by-6 fir mantle, and floor-to-ceiling firewood storage. Sunlight pours in--from the four-pane window centered on the front wall, from two butted-glass corner windows, and from a triangular skylight (a cutout in deck above admits light). Payne gave the dining room height and light by opening the ceiling to the bed-room-level balcony above and by installing floor-to-ceiling glass doors on the garden wall. The room is at the house's core. From here, stairs lead up to higher floors and down to the garage. A serendipitous find--a slab of surplus marble--tops the island in the kitchen. Dropped into one end of the island, the range is just two steps from refrigerator, wall ovens, and sink. A two-story light well with clerestory windows brightens this corner. In the opposite corner is a fireplace, alongside floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open to a terrace colonnade. Three steps up from the kitchen is a round family room with 12-foot ceilings and glass doors to the garden.

Bedrooms break out above the treetops

Above the garden-oriented public areas are two bedroom levels. Each covers less area than the floor below, and the lower-story roofs become decks. On the lower of these floors, the rear bedroom and the bath have openings to a light well. Payne crowned her house with the master bedroom and bath, each opening to a deck. Pivot point is a slate-tiled fireplace-tub area. In the center of the bedroom is a 3-by 6-foot skylight. Stairs from the master bedroom deck lead down to the deck below and to the garden. Throughout, a palette of cool pastel paint colors blends easily with the warmth of tongue-and-groove pine flooring.
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Date:May 1, 1990
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