A Tale of Deconstruction : This is the house that Ted rebuilt. He gutted a tract home and, using common materials, turned it into something uncommonly livable.


Most of us would agree that architecturally conforming houses with nondescript rooms give birth to boring interiors.

It's the unusual window that frames a view, the door that does more than just close, the molding that adds depth of vision that make a house interesting and livable. But because modern construction is standardized by the restrictions of building codes and costs, each house looks pretty much like the one next door, inside and out.

Laguna Niguel architect and land planner Ted Wells decided to capitalize on those very conforming elements when he redesigned a 13-year-old, 1,900-square-foot tract home. He bought the house in 1989, gutted it and lived in it for a year with no heat or electricity before finalizing his plans.

"I like the idea of taking a house in the midst of suburbia and turning it upside down by using the very same materials that are used in tract homes: joists, drywall, plywood, the wood components of doors," he says. "The whole house is sort of a take on production housing, only taking it the next step. I just detailed it differently. That way you get a custom house without a high cost in both money and the environment."

The result of Wells' rethinking is a open, airy, two-bedroom house that makes full use of the sun and the breezes in much the same way a traditional Japanese house does. Light and air enter rooms from at least two--and often three or four--sides. In the bedroom, light enters from all directions.

"I didn't set out to make a house that looked Japanese; it was a byproduct of the architecture. I wanted a peaceful place that had a centralized design. I wanted to use the materials basically and simply," Wells says. "There is an honesty in them. You can see the doors are made of plywood. I exposed all the joists and rafters in the house which are normally hidden."

The floor plan is like a nine-square tick-tack-toe board with a center space functioning as a courtyard leading to other rooms. In the middle are skylights in a high gabled or peaked tower built in the roof to allow for an extra half-hour of sun most of the year. The windowed sides can be cranked open to let in breezes.

"This is a take on the citrus cooling towers once common in Orange County, and it acts as a little beacon at night," he says.

The living area or inglenook adjoining the courtyard is carpeted in sea grass and has built-in benches that hold stereo speakers and become sofas with the addition of cushions. The television and stereo are behind doors of oak plywood.

Although most of the house's interior walls are white, one wall in the living room is painted terra cotta, and the moldings around the dining room windows near the living room are gold. These colors reflect those that eucalyptus leaves turn. Eucalyptus, not coincidentally, are a major part of the house's landscaping and Wells' favorite plant.

Oak was used throughout the house, but the counters and baths are slate.

Wells has few pieces of furniture but uses the house as a showcase for artists' works on a rotating basis. Four times a year he has an open house called "Art Hits Home" to give the works public exposure.

The house is as open as a pavilion. You can sit in the inglenook and look through to the back yard and its eucalyptus trees or forward to the front yard with its native plants. This creates a juxtaposition between the controlled minimal environment indoors and the almost wild, rampant landscaping outside.

This was intentional: Wells promotes the idea of sustainable architecture in sustainable communities. This is the reason he redesigned his house rather than build a new one and why he used nature to heat and cool his home as much as possible. He saved most of the original wood from the house when it was gutted and reused it, and he used the chunks of concrete from the previous patio to create a walkway and new patios outside.

"I think the state of architecture in Orange County is very sad," he says. "Here you can use the outside as part of your house, and you can't do that in many parts of the world, [and yet] it just amazes me how little indoor-outdoor architecture there is here and how little consideration there is for how a building sits on the lot."

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