Built from the ground up in the neighborhood of Echo Park, in Los Angeles, the 1,560-square-foot home of consultant Melanie Ryan and architect Todd Sussman, cofounders of design studio Open for Humans, is a work of love and dedication. Though it felt like a big challenge, building a house from a design to its full form, the final product has become both their personal refuge and workspace.
“Once we began our search for land, we decided on two must-haves,” Todd says: anti-isolation and views. Although tempted, Todd and Melanie steered clear of more remote hillside lots, instead aiming for something that provided more connection with a community and walkability. Plus, coming from Florida where they were surrounded by miles of at-sea-level terrain, they were drawn to something with elevation.
The design then started with the site. “As the home is situated on an active corner lot, the goal from there was to privatize the street-facing sides of the living spaces and open up the remaining areas to the exterior, focusing views toward either landscaping or vistas,” says Todd.
Building the house from scratch brought its own set of challenges. “Beyond the painfully slow permitting process and having funded this project ourselves, the most strenuous part was sorting out and staying on top of the financing and budget,” Todd adds. “Once we were fortunate enough to be introduced to our contractor, Giraffe, through a mutual friend, the construction itself went fairly smoothly.”
The exterior features raw textures, immediately giving a strong character to the property. “We’ve always been drawn to black and were able to strike a balance utilizing a shou sugi ban finish applied to reclaimed redwood along with concrete, plaster, and steel,” Todd describes. “We also added accents of cedar to the façade to provide some warmth to the otherwise cool palette.”
Aptly nicknamed the “Jungle Gym House,” the project features a lot of vegetation both inside and outside, with vines dripping down from the second floor. Taking advantage of the western views, the upper level is dedicated to the primary bedroom with its primary bath and walk-in closet; a study loft; a guest bedroom with its bath and closet; and the laundry room. The roof deck provides 360 degrees of an unobstructed panorama of the downtown L.A. skyline, Hollywood sign, and the San Gabriel Mountains.
Inspired by hospitality projects they either worked on or traveled to—including Bali; various spots in Yucatan, Mexico; Milan; and Coconut Grove in Miami—the couple wanted to bring the outside atmosphere in, something they achieved with the skylights and large windows. “It feels like living in a James Turrell sculpture sometimes,” Melanie says.
Since they moved in last May, the duo use their house as their studio too. “Like most people, home has become our entire world. We feel like we’re on a spaceship,” Melanie says. “It was a game-time decision to turn the second bedroom into an office with built-in desks, and we’re so glad we did as we’re both working from home. I’ve also turned the loft area into my gym space, with a mirror, yoga mat, meditation cushions, and pilates equipment.”
All the interior areas reflect the couple’s personality and taste. “They are minimal and unfussy, and sort of unisex, with masculine and feminine energy,” Melanie says. When we first moved in, we felt so small in it compared to living a high-rise-apartment life for so long. There is room to breathe, but it’s not overwhelming to take care of and handle. Having a vegetable garden has been so therapeutic as well.”
After spending many hours thinking about every detail, Melanie and Todd can now enjoy their beloved, very personal home, which has become both their urban refuge and an inspirational place.
⚒ Do It Yourself
Use a piece of furniture to separate different areas in the same space. In their L.A. home, Melanie and Todd custom-designed the entertainment/bar fixture to delimit the dining room and living room without closing them off, which creates continuity.
Introduce many plants to bring some freshness. The presence of vegetation in Melanie and Todd’s home adds some pops of color. The use of different types of plants and flowers can help change the space.
Create a multifunctional room. It could be a guest bedroom/office, a study/yoga room, or a TV room/library. Designing flexible spaces is a good way to transform your home according to new needs.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest