Oasis in the heart of LA

Lush greenery surrounds the home of the Thompsons, creating an inwardly focused experience in busy Los Angeles

Measuring 5,380 sq ft, the house in the Studio City neighbourhood comprises three separate pavilions connected by glass walkways, with enormous glass doors that slide open to connect the interior to a mosaic of courtyards and gardens.
Measuring 5,380 sq ft, the house in the Studio City neighbourhood comprises three separate pavilions connected by glass walkways.PHOTO: ASSEMBLEDGE/ INSTAGRAM

LOS ANGELES • At David and Jamie Thompson's house in the Studio City neighbourhood of Los Angeles, it is easy to lose track of where the house ends and the yard begins.

The 5,380 sq ft home, which Mr Thompson, founding principal of Los Angeles-based architecture firm Assembledge, designed for his family of four, is three separate pavilions connected by glass walkways, with enormous glass doors that slide open to connect the interior rooms to a mosaic of courtyards and gardens.

One pavilion houses the main living spaces, another the primary bedrooms and the last a guest suite and garage. "We're really using the perimeter of the property as the exterior walls," said Mr Thompson, 50.

With a courtyard of mature olive trees, old oaks, walkways lined with tall grasses and a pool, the property has become "this little private oasis, right smack in the middle of an incredible urban city", he said.

Indoor-outdoor living is nothing new in Southern California, but at the Thompsons' home, the concept is exaggerated. Mr Thompson said: "Unlike many iconic Los Angeles houses that orient themselves around these panoramic city views, this house is really more about this inwardly focused experience."

Creating that private oasis required years of patience and planning.

He had designed and built a house in the Larchmont neighbourhood of Los Angeles shortly after the arrival of the couple's first daughter Lyla, now 15. They loved that house, but as the years went by and they welcomed a second daughter - Zoe, now 12 - the 2,400 sq ft structure, which sat on a 5,000 sq ft lot, began to feel cramped.

The yard was so tight that "David would end up standing in the street, throwing the softball back and forth with the girls out in front of our house, which was all glass", said Mrs Thompson, 52, a real estate agent.

By 2014, it was time to move on. They found a 1956 bungalow on an 18,000 sq ft lot in Studio City after a search.

The house was just what they wanted: dated enough that they would not feel guilty tearing it down, yet sound enough that they could live there for a few years while they went about selling their old house and saving for a new construction project.

They closed on the home for US$1.8 million that October and moved in. "It was that proverbial worst house on the block," Mr Thompson said. "And it was literally falling apart around us."

The arrangement lasted about two years, until one rainy night when he finished setting up a series of buckets to catch leaking water in the family room, only to retire to the master bedroom and find another leak there.

"It was the last straw," he said. In January 2017, the family moved out and called in the demolition crew.

Waiting so long to begin construction was largely a financial decision, but it also gave the Thompsons time to understand their property better. "It afforded us the opportunity to live in the space and really sense the lot, how we lived in the house, where the light was and what we enjoyed about it," Mrs Thompson said.

That, in turn, informed her husband's approach to planning space.

He aimed to recreate elements of the original house they liked, including the way visitors passed through an intimate courtyard to arrive at the front door from the street, while introducing new features such as an expanded kitchen connected to an open family room, which serves as the hub of the home.

To design the outdoor spaces, he called on his friend and frequent collaborator Michael Fiore, of Fiore Landscape Design. The latter not only helped plan the greenery, pathways and firepit, but also sent the Thompsons to visit an olive farm in Visalia, California, to select three 85-year-old olive trees in person.

For the interiors, the Thompsons collaborated with another friend, Ms Susan Mitnick, an interior designer. The goal was to make the house "very modern, but very warm and accessible", Mr Thompson said. "We wanted it to be less about a style and more about a lifestyle."

Ms Mitnick helped them achieve that by advising on natural materials, colours and textures that would soften the architectural envelope.

By the time the family moved in this past summer, they had spent about US$1.5 million (S$2 million) and it was money well spent, Mrs Thompson said.

"It is the most beautiful house I've ever lived in," she noted, adding that each day brings a pleasant new surprise. "It's like a kaleidoscope sometimes, just with light and shadow, and nature."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2020, with the headline 'Oasis in the heart of LA'. Subscribe