"I take away the extraneous and make it clean." That's how Emily Ain describes the home she and her husband, James Matson, have been renovating and remodeling for 17 years.
When the couple first looked at the house — a 2,300-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bath, 1956 Beverly Crest Home — their real estate agent discouraged them from making an offer. But Ain is a designer and Matson is an architect, and they could see beyond the security bars on the windows, the dark jumbled interiors, the oddly arranged eating areas, the pink appliances, heavily carpeted stairs and indoor plants lining a soffit that was meant to emit shelf lighting. What they envisioned was a modern floor plan with private areas opening to a living room and dining room that faced an interior courtyard.
Ain, who grew up in a house designed by her father, architect Gregory Ain, and who studied at SCI-Arc, met Matson at Canadian architect Arthur Erickson's Los Angeles office, where the two worked on the firm's winning submission for the San Diego Convention Center in 1984. After marrying almost 30 years ago, the couple modernized the interiors of a storybook house in the Mid-Wilshire area and, in 1990, built a house on spec in Montecito Heights.
As Ain explains, "It was a clean, Ain-inspired design, due to our budget and aesthetics." But interest in the prototypical modern home was minimal at the time, so the couple rented the house for a number of years. Appreciation for midcentury architecture has taken time to develop, Ain says. She remembers as an architecture student "the only person who asked me about my name was Tony Unruh, an undergraduate. He now owns my father's office on Hyperion in Silver Lake." She adds, "The name Gregory Ain was not commonly known. Today, even an auto mechanic will ask me if by any chance I'm related to the architect."
In keeping with her own Modernist architectural vision, she and Matson started the first wave of renovations on the Beverly Crest house in 1997. Ain says, "The ideas were mostly mine, but James did the nitty-gritty."
Before moving in, they removed the "cottage cheese" ceiling and applied a smooth finish to match the walls once they were repaired. Matson pulled up the wall-to-wall carpet and had hardwood floors installed. They kept the slate flooring in the entry but removed the S-curve border and made a straight line with the stone to help define the space.
After removing an overabundance of vegetation in the back, Ain says, "we were surprised to see a house next door, like a mother with a child on her hip, the house was so close." Creating a more modest separation for privacy and adding a water feature to the courtyard became another project.
The leaky louvered windows were replaced with large panels of glass. The soffit in the main room was cleared and the lighting restored. More significant changes included redesigning a Jack-and-Jill bathroom to service one bedroom instead of two, for privacy. The other room is Ain's office.
When it came to the kitchen, Matson remembers, it was awkward to have the dining table and kitchen table close to each other. They reconfigured the kitchen by removing the breakfast nook. It is a now a sitting room where Ain's book club, which she has belonged to for 18 years, meets. On the other end of the kitchen, spaces were combined for a washroom. Ain designed a canted wall for the kitchen, along with a canted wall on the exterior facade. Matson explains that the walls "work with the sloping roof and the geometry of the house."
Their work schedule prevents home projects from being done quickly. Matson, vice president and principal at Hammel, Green & Abrahamson, is overseeing the LEED Gold Student Success Center at East Los Angeles College. Aside from remodeling a house for a client in Silver Lake, Ain is finishing a book about her parents. "The thread of the story," Ain says, "comes from old letters my mother, unbeknownst to me or my brother, saved," most of them from Ain's father before her parents were married. She is quick to point out it is not an architecture story but a "social commentary and romance about two creative souls."
Is work on the Beverly Crest home complete? No. "Our tastes change and evolve," says Matson. Ain adds, "It's a continuing process."