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Casual by Design

Architect Steven Ehrlich and his wife, author and magazine editor Nancy Griffin, never get in a car on Sunday--at least not if they can help it. “We love to stay at home,” Ehrlich says. “The farthest we like to go is the local farmer’s market.”

Sundays are reserved for casual entertaining--often brunches--with family and friends. Two of Ehrlich’s daughters, Julia and Onna, routinely drop by for a weekly catch-up. A few neighbors are summoned, including artists Ed Moses, Woods Davy and Laddie John Dill and fashion designer Pamela Barish. “We often call at the last minute,” says Griffin, who is known for her scrumptious frittatas. “I assign everyone a job--cutting fresh basil, chopping garlic. Steven is in charge of the barbecue. Everyone chips in; it’s all very stress-free.”

Shopping for brunch is usually done in one easy turn at the outdoor market, held 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays in the California Heritage Museum parking lot at Main Street and Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica.

“I’ll buy a dozen eggs at Lily’s, fresh herbs and greens at Maggie’s Farm, and some fresh berries or whatever fruit is in season--Bosc pears, black mission figs--for a fruit salad,” says Griffin. “Rockenwagner restaurant has a booth with wonderful breads and some multi-grain and ginger scones that are really delicious. And that’s all we need.”

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If they hanker for imported cheeses or other delicacies, Stroh’s Gourmet and Market Gourmet are just three blocks away on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. “We can walk or bike to [almost] everything we need,” Ehrlich says. “It’s one of the reasons we love the area so much.”

Ehrlich has been enamored with the eclectic community and Venice lifestyle since the late ‘70s, when he purchased his first home there upon returning from Africa, where he did a stint in the Peace Corps. Nancy is a 15-year resident. The new house they completed last year is three blocks from Ehrlich’s original Craftsman home and a block from Griffin’s former home.

Set in a sea of ubiquitous 20th century bungalows and swaying palms, the two-story modern home’s open-plan layout is ideal for the casual indoor-outdoor entertaining the owners love. Built in the tradition of California modernists Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra, the Corten steel-clad home seamlessly weaves together home and garden.

The first floor’s enormous glass doors open three sides of the house to courtyards. In the living room, the glass pocket door slides out of sight, making the multi-trunk Aleppo pine outside seem like a large sculpture in the room. At the opposite end, the dining room’s 11-foot-tall glass doors pivot open to a palm-shaded courtyard with a raised platform and a barbecue.

At a birthday gathering last year, 120 people filled the house and garden. “They were going up and down the stairs, they were on the mezzanine and out on the terraces, standing on the bridge, sitting on the tansu stairs and in all the courtyards--basically they were hanging from the rafters,” Griffin recalls, laughing.

One of the home’s most popular gathering spots is the kitchen courtyard, between the main house and Ehrlich’s detached studio, where guests sit on a sofa blanketed with pillows, or perch on leather ottomans from Africa. Others lie about on colorful Moroccan carpets that the couple drape over the platform or grass for picnic dining. Radiant heat, installed beneath the concrete courtyard floor, allows guests to sit comfortably outside even on chilly evenings. “With Southern California having one of the great climates of the world,” says Ehrlich, “there are possibilities of outdoor living and entertaining year-round.”

The Ehrlich/Griffin holiday brunch on these pages highlights recipes inspired by Southern California’s fall and winter produce and featured in Diane Rossen Worthington’s new book, “The Taste of the Season” (Chronicle Books). For those who don’t want to cook everything at the last minute, or who have cooking-challenged friends, there are suggestions for preparing many of the dishes ahead--ensuring a party the home chef will enjoy as much as the guests.

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Winter frittata

Crispy scallion-potato pancakes with maple Asia n pear applesauce

Autumn salad with persimmons and pomegranates

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Compote with red grapes, red pears, red apples and figs

Pasta salad with roasted vegetables

Pumpkin-chocolate loaf

Cinnamon-streusel sour cream coffeecake

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Sparkling wine with pomegranate juice

Tropical cooler

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Resource Guide

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Little Iittala Aarne wine and champagne glasses, $20 each, at OK, Los Angeles, (323) 653-3501. 12-inch round teak tray, $28, at OK. Ceramic platters, bowls and plates, $28 to $96, at Luna Garcia, Venice, (800) 905-9975. Page 26: Viva Martini compote glass, $3.95, at Crate and Barrel stores, www.crateandbarrel.com. Teak wine coaster, $10, at OK. Bedford Lauffer vintage stainless flatware, $325 for eight place settings, at OK. Round bread plate, $28, at Luna Garcia. Page 28: Orion bowl, $17, at Crate and Barrel.

Steven Ehrlich, Steven Ehrlich Architects, Culver City, (310) 838-9700. Woods Davy, Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410. Laddie John Dill, Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Santa Monica, (310) 829-3300; or by appointment at his Venice studio, (310) 396-9936. Pamela Barish, Venice, (310) 314-4490. Ed Moses, L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice, (310) 822-4955. David Albert, David Albert Design, Los Angeles, (310) 869-4736. Kirby Ingram, Sarah Lee Artworks & Projects, Santa Monica, (310) 829-4938. Onna Ehrlich, www.onnaehrlich.com. Joel Bell, Joel Bell Design, Culver City, (626) 379-2297.


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