Beauty Unboxed


Although Ron and Barbara Goldman have bought and remodeled a number of fixer-uppers over the years, their latest project looked beyond redemption.

“There are a lot of properties on the market,” Ron Goldman recalled a family member saying to him. “Have you really looked around?” The doubts were understandable. The location near a trendy Santa Monica shopping avenue was desirable, but the building itself was an awkward mishmash of four garages and a boxy one-bedroom apartment, squished between two apartment buildings.

Most people would go to any lengths to avoid the hassles involved in transforming a property like this into an elegant single-family home. But Goldman had confidence from the success of his past projects and from his decades of experience as an architect. So he and his wife bought the property for $315,000 and invested their time, talents and $300,000 more into the job.

Their risk paid off, and two years ago the couple moved into a striking 2,300-square-foot two-bedroom, three-bathroom contemporary home filled with light, art and unusual architectural lines, all surrounded by walled gardens.


“It’s a happy space,” said Barbara Goldman, who works as administrator of her husband’s firm. “It’s full of surprises.”

To get the building from the condition it was in to its current state took months of negotiations with the city, lenders and neighbors, among others.

Ron Goldman calls the process “a creative synthesis,” in which his ideas and plans were tempered by outside rules and parameters as well as those of the property itself.

The biggest drawback was the property’s small lot size--just 4,200 square feet, less than a tenth of an acre. The existing garages and apartment were a mere 12 feet from the street, and one edge sat nearly on top of the property line.


But tearing down the structure and building a new one would have required the Goldmans to conform to modern setbacks--20 feet from the front and 10 feet from each side--leaving too small a footprint to build a decent-sized home.

To get around that problem, the Goldmans left 50% of the existing exterior walls in place, which, according to the city of Santa Monica, qualified it as a remodel, allowing them to build to the old setbacks.

Even so, the flimsy construction of the old building’s exterior walls was not sturdy enough for modern standards, so the drywall and stucco were stripped off and thick posts were inserted between existing studs.

Also, because the remodel’s second story was considered new construction, it had to meet current codes and so is stepped back from the front and sides of the first floor.


Expressing Artistic Vision

Once the footprint of the house was determined, Ron Goldman set out to express his signature artistic vision--lots of light, indoor-outdoor space and unusual features. For instance, he installed inside windows between rooms and created a curved handrail in the stairwell.

“I’ve always put windows inside,” Goldman said. “I think most people design with too many stereotypes. A railing doesn’t have to be straight.”

The house is reached from the street through a gate that leads into a courtyard. The courtyard is shielded from the street with a thick hedge of bamboo and is brightened with an acacia tree which, when in bloom, is heavy with yellow flowers. The plantings are selected partly for color; the gray-green of the acacia blends well with the white home’s soft teal trim.


From the courtyard, one can look through a window and see straight through the family room, past a wall of French doors and out to the back patio.

Ron Goldman’s idea was to create the feeling of an atrium in the center of the house. In fact, he used concrete pavers in the front courtyard and back patio and he wanted to use those in the house as well, to give a seamless flow between outdoor and indoor spaces.

But Barbara Goldman disliked the idea of concrete floors. “That’s where I drew the line,” she recalled, and the Goldmans opted instead for warmer red-oak floors.

Through the recessed front door, a visitor enters the center of the house, an airy family room with a two-story ceiling. To the right are the living room, dining room and kitchen, all with cozier normal-height ceilings.


To the left of the family room are a two-car garage and a study.

The upstairs consists of the master bedroom and a guest room, which are in wings on either side of the house, connected by a bridge that overlooks the family room.

Throughout the house, Goldman has used thick opaque glass of a soft blue-green that bathes the house in glowing light while retaining privacy. One whole interior wall of the master bedroom is made of this glass, as is the wall behind the second-story bridge.

At night, the Goldmans can look up from the family room to see street lights illuminating the swaying branches of trees against the glass wall. “It becomes a marvelous work of art,” Ron Goldman said, tilting his face toward the sky.


Another pane of opaque glass is installed above the kitchen sink, where a garden window had been placed and then removed after it was discovered that it overhung the legal perimeter of the house.

More reflective light was brought into the kitchen by installing upper cabinet doors of textured reed glass. The cabinets themselves are maple, and the counter is Corian. Though kitchen-family room combinations are popular these days, the original narrow shape of the kitchen had to be retained for structural reasons.

The remodeled house has passed muster with the Goldmans’ grandson, Jason Craig, 6. He puts on puppet shows from the window in the guest room that overlooks the family room, and he plays on a patch of lawn his grandparents maintain for him.

As for Barbara Goldman, she would have preferred to remain in the first house she and her husband of 37 years remodeled a couple of decades ago. But she remains a fan of her spouse’s architectural creations.


“He needs a chance to play out these ideas. He has a lot of fun with them,” she said, “and that’s very infectious.”

Freelance writer Kathy Price-Robinson has written about remodeling for 10 years. She can be reached at

Source Book

Project: Turn four garages and a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica into a contemporary single-family home.


Architect-Owner: Ron Goldman, Goldman Firth Architects, Malibu, (310) 456-1831.

Builder: Rod Spector, R. Spector & Co., Malibu, (310) 457-1368.

Duration: Three months. Cost: $300,000.