Architect Jon Frishman’s Laurel Canyon retreat


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Anyone who has remodeled a kitchen or built an addition to a house knows that construction hardly ever passes like clockwork. It takes time — and in the case of a perfection-seeking architect whose dreams soared higher than his budget, lots and lots of time.

Architect Jon Frishman needed just two weeks to design his house but 10 years to build it. For his methodical approach and patience, Frishman’s reward is a three-story, 1,500-square-foot house in Laurel Canyon that is loaded with custom features at an off-the-shelf cost.


PHOTO GALLERY: Jon Frishman’s house

By planning meticulously, acting as his own general contractor and knocking out projects bit by bit, the architect said, his expenses were about $150 a square foot, about half the amount often spent to build similar homes today.

His series of low-cost solutions started with his interpretation of the Los Angeles building code, which required covered parking for two cars. Rather than devote space to a two-car garage he didn’t need, Frishman designed a one-car garage and an adjacent garden courtyard, which, thanks to a sliding front door that the architect installed and a retractable fabric awning that he has planned, can double as a carport.

Key choices were made in something as simple as the shower drain — square instead of round, making it easier to cut and lay the tile around it. Instead of buying a traditional skylight, the architect used plain laminated glass. For a modern fireplace with a custom look, he bought a prefabricated hearth and had it clad in aluminum. The flue? It’s actually an irrigation pipe. A tankless water heater can be set to save energy when less hot water is needed, which helps to keep operating expenses low. The emphasis on managing costs did not come at the expense of personal passion. Frishman added finely tuned interior details that recall the levers, knobs and switches of classic sports cars. (“I think I’m a frustrated car designer,” he said.)

Unobtrusive air grilles in the house are akin to the side panel vents you might see in a luxury car or private jet. Kitchen cabinets have springs like the support struts for a car trunk, an aesthetic choice that also means smoother opening and closing of doors.

For the kitchen and bathrooms, Frishman installed domestically manufactured fixtures from Chicago Faucets.


“They are well-made and inexpensive,” he said, adding that bathroom faucet handles were positioned to the side of the counters, so one doesn’t have to reach over the sink. “I like to take something very utilitarian and simple and use it in a different way.”

Recognizing that architecture, like other professions, has its ebb and flow, the man behind Frishman Architecture said he didn’t mind that building his home took so long. “Persistence is all that I have. Failure is not an option.”

In the kitchen, the backsplash consists of drywall painted yellow and topped with a 1/16-inch piece of clear tempered glass, which is inexpensive, strong, easy to clean and heat resistant. Because modern designer faucets can run into four figures, Frishman bought industrial Chicago Faucet fixtures “in the $300 range”; in the kitchen, faucet knobs were placed near the front of the counter to eliminate the need to reach over the sink.

The skylight is a simple piece of laminated, tempered glass. “It’s durable and fire resistant,” Frishman said. “You can walk on it, and it’s easy to clean with a squeegee and less expensive than a prefabricated plastic skylight.” Seen through the glass: the fireplace flue made from an irrigation pipe.

A trellis system was Frishman’s alternative to large steel beams, which he feared would have encumbered the space and escalated costs. He collaborated with an engineer to develop the system of smaller supports that ultimately provided structural support at a lower price. Above the living room: A deck made of ipe wood outside the master bedroom.

To make the most of the house’s relatively small footprint, stairs to the office on the lowest floor are accessed through a hatch that, when closed, is walkable.

The office walls have standard wood framing fitted with polycarbonate panels, inside and outside, which transmit light while still offering privacy and framing views. The polycarbonate provides less insulation than traditional walls, but radiant floor heating keeps the room comfortable in winter, and on the hottest days of summer Frishman has a shading device that covers the east-facing wall. “I have been looking for some type of bubble wrap to use an insulation,” he said, “but that is a work in progress.”


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-- Jeffrey Head

Photo, top: Frishman built the carport door using aluminum tubes for the frame. He chose glass that is patterned for privacy, tempered for strength and only 1/16-inch thick to keep weight and cost down. The track is standard rolling door hardware. “I would guess you could get a garage door fabricator to make one up for $2,000,” he said.

Photo credits: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times