Hit the decks

Barbara Thornburg is senior style editor at the magazine. Contact her at

At film producer John Melfi’s sleek Venice home, some of the most inventive solutions to the question, “How do you squeeze the most from a compact floor plan?” are outside the walls.

The modern three-story house, designed by Culver City architect Steven Shortridge in collaboration with his partner Barbara Callas, maximizes its footprint with outdoor rooms on the first floor and the roof. The strategy takes advantage of the ocean air breezing through the 30-foot-by-80-foot corner lot and gives Melfi an additional 850 square feet of living room.

Three glass doors slide out of the way to open the kitchen/dining area to the first floor’s outdoor patio, which is decked out with a built-in teak sofa, dramatic fire pit and custom barbecue. The same acid-washed concrete floor is used inside and out, ensuring a seamless transition.

The fire pit’s hot-rolled steel-plate backdrop acts as one partial wall of the outdoor room, while new plantings, such as a large black pine and assorted olive trees, make up the room’s soft green walls, explains Shortridge, an old friend of Melfi’s. Sofas--one the size of a bed--are upholstered in outdoor fabric, offering a comfortable place to lounge or spend the night under the stars.


Upstairs, Shortridge wrapped the rooftop deck with frosted-glass panels and Hardiboard lap siding, an eco-friendly fiber cement material that resembles the narrow wood siding on early Venice homes. The outdoor room features a California Cooperage hot tub set on a raised platform, with an adjacent outdoor shower. Diagonally across from the tub, a seating area with a round stainless-steel fire pit is sheltered beneath a 12-foot-tall olive tree.

For hot summer days, two flexible Brown Jordan Sunshades offer protection. Shortridge flush-mounted six custom brackets into the deck so the lightweight aluminum umbrellas can be rearranged depending on the sun’s angle. “The Sunshades offer more flexibility and don’t pick up the wind like conventional umbrellas,” he says, “and they’re pretty easy to move around.”

Melfi loves his rooftop room so much that he sometimes goes up in the morning and ends up spending the day. “With the hot tub, shower and piped-in music, the rooftop feels like the best of hotel/spa living,” he says. “My friends in Manhattan, who have seen pictures of the house, want to come out and stay in my Venice bed and breakfast.”




Dimensions: Round 5-foot shade with 1 3/8-inch aluminum pole.

Materials: Aluminum and Versatex mesh; custom stainless-steel floor brackets and arms.

Cost: Brown Jordan Sunshades, $1,490 to $1,850, at Berk’s, Santa Monica, (310) 828-7447; cement-filled aluminum base, $400, and custom brackets, about $4,500.


Expansive Seating

Dimensions: Sofa on left: 4 feet by 9 feet; sofa on right: 3 feet by 9 feet. Materials: Teak frame; Perennials outdoor fabrics in “Chameleon” on back cushions and “Ishi” on seat cushions, at David Sutherland Showroom, Los Angeles, (310) 360-1777.

Cost: About $35,000.

Architect: Callas Shortridge Architects, Culver City, (310) 280-0404.


Landscape: Bent Grass, Venice, (310) 399-6522.