A Perfect Match

May 2009

He’s built sophisticated campuses for Los Angeles’ most prestigious private schools, designed a building at the famed Getty Center and recently won an American Institute of Architect’s award for a spectacular beachfront home in Malibu. We couldn’t help but wonder, therefore, about architect Jeffrey Kalban’s own home in the San Fernando Valley: Does the creativity that brought the Southland some of its most noteworthy landmarks infuse his own house? A recent visit with the affable Kalban revealed that his imagination apparently never takes a rest.

The 1,350-square-foot bungalow that he and wife Maria bought a quarter-century ago has nearly doubled in size, transformed by the addition of contemporary rooms and complementary outdoor areas. Colorful modern artwork by the self-taught painter and sculptor graces every room, and even the leather furniture in the cozy living room is Kalban’s own design.

He’s quick to point out, however, that he was just one member of the creative team responsible for the evolution of the home. “They’re my toughest clients,” jokes Kalban, nodding at Maria and their 21-year-old daughter, Jennifer, both of whom have artwork displayed throughout the house.
“I can relate a feeling to him that I want to create and he’s able to translate it,” says Maria, a retired retail buyer and entrepreneur who creates whimsical fabric sculptures and weaves brightly hued runners and throws.

Kalban says his ability to listen-whether to his family or to his clients at Jeffrey M. Kalban & Associates-is an approach he learned early in his career, working with pre-eminent architects I.M. Pei and William Pereira. “You keeping listening for the exceptional thing,” he says. “You design from the inside out. You listen to what the client wants and to all of their concerns. Once you solve the problems, then you can start on the design.”

Whether it’s a residential, academic or institutional project, his designs are-above all-functional, with sophisticated lines supporting a versatile use of space. “Every room has its own personality and character,” Kalban says, “and it changes from day to day.” While Kalban notes that the successful projects produced by his 10-member firm are a “team accomplishment,” there are some constants in all of the creations-bright colors, uncluttered details and the ethereal feeling of freedom.

Look skyward in Kalban’s octagonal family room and you’re reminded of the soaring arches adorning the classroom buildings he designed for the Harvard-Westlake School. Admire Kalban’s wall sculptures and compare them to the bright hues of the regional homeless center he built in Hollywood. Run your hands along the gently curved walls and recall the same silhouette at the Pan Pacific Park community center. Then bask in the light steaming into the house from oversized windows throughout, and realize it’s the same airy feeling you get during a visit to the Getty Center’s South Building (which complements the eight other Getty structures, which were designed by renowned architect Richard Meier).

“Spaces need functions to give them life and vitality,” he says, “and each space’s function has to be its own.”

The same holds true in designing outdoor spaces, says Kalban, who explains below how he created a seamless expansion of the family’s living space.

“You design from the inside out. You listen to what the client wants and to all of their concerns. Once you solve the problems, then you can start on the design.”

In 1984, Maria and I decided it was time to move out of our apartment and begin creating a home of our own. I had just opened my own architecture firm, so we were not in the market for anything extravagant. We just wanted a place that matched where we were in our lives, but could grow along with us.
Both of us were raised back East, so were looking for something that would allow us to take advantage of Southern California’s beautiful weather. We settled on a small house built in 1939. It wasn’t exactly what we wanted-it was interior-focused and felt closed up-but it had interesting bay windows and a large lot. It offered opportunities, and we set out to make it our own.

Our first project opened up the living room by replacing two ordinary windows with doors that led to a large side yard. We later added a bedroom wing when Jennifer was born, and more recently built an octagonal “pavilion” that serves as a sort of family room. Each addition was designed to add light and life to a closedoff space. With each addition, we created a complementary exterior space, each of which has its own special nickname.

The Palm Court, for example, leading to the front door, is my special place for enjoying a martini. Shielded by layered planting and two triangular palms, its seclusion also makes for a wonderful place to dine. However, it can also function as a traditional front porch, giving us access to our neighbors and providing a rare opportunity to use the front yard.

Just off the foyer is a glass door that takes visitors out to The Fireside Room, our side yard where a contemporary outdoor fireplace takes the chill out of the evening air. The seating area is perfect for family or neighborhood gatherings. It’s also adjacent to the backyard, where Maria’s green thumb has created a lush retreat. Visitors can sit around the pool and enjoy the sun or seek shelter in the shady area we’ve dubbed The Cove. The other side of the house, facing our art studio, is The Retreat, a linear garden that provides the perfect setting for seeking inspiration. Although the garden is small and out of the way, we would have missed a wonderful opportunity had we allowed this area to simply languish.

The octagonal addition we call The Pavilion is an indoor space designed to create a feeling of being out of doors. It has huge windows on four sides that create beautiful light and we can open them to let in the breeze. On Halloween, we even sit in The Pavilion and hand out candy to trick-or-treaters through the open window! Maria and Jenny were my “clients” on The Pavilion. We all talked about what we wanted, and designed the project from the inside out. There was a lot of trial and error, and we probably went through a dozen designs. We didn’t know exactly what we wanted-but we knew when it was right.

It has taken 25 years, but a house that was introspective has been opened up to the outdoors, and the landscape has been designed to draw visitors to all parts of the yard. The inside and outside have become one. Our home and our lives celebrate the beauty of Southern California.

- Barbra Jones

- Photos by John McCoy

Southern California Spaces

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