Another great garden shed – with a new slant
January 19th, 2009
Literary agent Charlotte Gusay has a delicious secret. She recently shared it with me and gave me permission to write about it here.
Charlotte contacted me after reading about my shed expertise (also known as an “obsession”) in Dwell magazine:
“[I] saw the recent issue of Dwell (Feb. 09) with your article on ‘backyard’ sheds. So disappointed we did not find each other before this article and/or your book . . . .
“I have a swell little ‘postmodern shed’ that my husband Bobby Milder and I built about 5 years ago. . . .”
She sent along a few photographs to tempt me. What else would a nosy reporter such as me do next? I called Charlotte and invited myself over for a visit. Paula Panich, my writing mentor and friend, came along last week when we drove over to Charlotte’s after lunch.
Her house sits quietly on a tree-lined city street, just a block or so away from a major thoroughfare. It is nice to know these inviting residential pockets exist here in LA, right in the city. I love it!
This irresistible 10-by-14 foot haven is tucked comfortably into a far corner of Charlotte’s urban lot, hidden from everyone’s view but hers. Because of the way it has been sited, the shelter is first seen “in profile,” its longer side and angled shed roof-line emphasized. When glimpsed by newcomers (such as Paula and me) the shed reveals its see-through quality, thanks to a wraparound glass “corner” that connects two outer walls. The white-painted framework around the windows and door outlines and emphasizes vertical and horizontal lines of the design (almost Mondrianesque in its geometry).
I like how Charlotte described the shed to me in her first email note: “It floats elegantly in the backyard, just beyond our 1944 mid-century house in West Los Angeles.”
In need of extra space that could double as a guest bedroom or garden pavilion, Charlotte and Bobby commissioned the construction of this diminutive but mod structure. It stands where there once was a “mock 12th century Japanese tea house-cum-playhouse built for my daughter,” Charlotte says.
Daughter Charmaine is all grown up and in college now, so mom and dad were ready for a decidedly grownup alternative. They adapted construction plans by Edgar Blazona (a Berkeley-based designer) ordered from ReadyMade magazine. Formerly with Pottery Barn, Blazona is a vice president for Th.inc!, a Bay Area product design and branding firm. His prefab business, Modular Dwellings, features contemporary and modern structures of various sizes, the lines of which echo Charlotte’s.
There is a reflective quality to this “installation,” and I use the term installation because the overall composition is so well-curated. The use of burnished and corrugated metal siding, mirrored bands, metallic silver paint and huge swaths of glass creates a shiny, glittering piece of architecture. It’s modern and minimalistic, but at the same time organic and inviting. A creamy white and pale ivory interior palette adds to the warmth. Tone-on-tone accessories visually unify the small space – making it feel expansive (the pitched ceiling helps trick the eye, too).
Charlotte’s shed incorporates its own private garden, designed by Los Angeles-based architect/landscape architect Alan Bernstein. The composition captures otherwise unused space behind the property’s one-car garage. Like Yin is to Yang, the garden “completes” the overall design, occupying a volume that mirrors that of the architectural footprint to create a serene, visual extension of the built space. When you stand or sit inside the little building, the floor-to-ceiling glass wall frames the garden view beyond. The glass also allows the interiors to be flooded with light, captures impressions of leaf and flower, and offers room to breathe.
The garden floor is defined by geometric concrete pads – squares and circles – and green mondo grass; the outdoor seating includes armchairs and a custom bench (made by Bobby with lots of input from Charlotte).
The most arresting feature is a stylish outdoor shower. It’s covered overhead by a flowering bougainvillea and given privacy by a sliding curtain. Charlotte (seen above as she peeks from behind the curtain), calls it her “Homage to Christo.” In the hands of landscaper Miguel Castaneda, the garden continues to flourish and change with the seasons.
After our visit, Charlotte sent me an email note with a few more thoughts. They will strike a chord with anyone who is fortunate enough to have a backyard escape of their own, whether it is modern, traditional or retro:
“I really love (my shed). Sometimes, when I’m overly pressured, I just go out here and look around, listen to the gravel crunch under my footsteps, pick up a leaf or two, lean on the wall, look at the sky. Gaze at the view of the garden from inside the little room. Mmmmmm. Well, you get the picture.”
Indeed I do, Charlotte. Thank you so much for sharing your private space with me. Here are a few more interior and exterior images, including the very cool al fresco shower: