By Emily Young
20 Images

An authentically modern house in a land of the faux

Architect Ruth Hasell’s emphatically modern home in Orange County isn’t just a rejection of the phony French castles and wannabe Tuscan villas proliferating in nearby housing developments. It’s also her vision of what more homes in Southern California could -- and should -- look like. “I wanted the house to be a vivid reflection of built work that was Californian and a direct response to our time and to this place,” she says, “not a dim reflection of a misremembered style from another lifetime and another continent.” (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Poured-in-place concrete walls. Glued laminated Douglas fir beams. A galvanized steel roof. Hasell’s new house is the work of an unabashed modernist, one who served as project architect for Quiksilver‘s headquarters in Huntington Beach and who embraces the Southern California architecture pioneered by Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra. The house is built on a steep slope that previous owners deemed unbuildable. Two upper wings are connected by a spine; a second level unfolds on the lower part of the property.  (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
The entrance to the house. In developing a floor plan, Hasell divided the building: She and her husband, Gary, live upstairs, which contains the library, kitchen and dining and living areas. The master bedroom also is upstairs, on one side of the thick concrete wall that runs through the center of the house. The lower level of the house, which unfolds down the slope, can be adapted as necessary. The bottom floor has a separate entry and can serve as guest quarters for the couple’s visiting children. During the economic downturn, it has been an office for Hasell’s firm(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Hasell sits by the kitchen’s breakfast counter, near a central concrete wall that divides the upper floor. In winter, the wall absorbs the sun’s heat through a skylight and warms the house at night. In summer, the concrete cools overnight and helps to keep indoor temperatures comfortable during the day. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
The reverse view: the kitchen, with a lighting fixture from Foscarini, the breakfast counter in the background and glass backsplash behind the cook top. When the Hasells decided to build their dream home, they searched for a location where they could indulge their taste for modern architecture. They settled in the unincorporated area north of Tustin known as Lemon Heights because the quiet neighborhood of renovated 1960s ranch houses has no design review board. Free from constraints, Hasell designed a three-bedroom, three-bathroom house that harnesses natural light, conserves energy and enhances comfort throughout 3,300 square feet dug into the eucalyptus-shaded slope. “The place feels large but is actually much smaller than a lot of the houses around us,” husband Gary says. “It fits the site really well and feels like it belongs.” (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
One of Hasell’s trademarks is streamlined, multifunctional storage. In the kitchen and dining area, white lacquered pivot doors open to reveal an illuminated buffet for instant entertaining space. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
The floors are tiger bamboo, a vividly patterned type of the sustainable material. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
“The house is like a landscape- and weather-viewing instrument,” she says. “We watch the light and shadows change during the day and from season to season. We open the doors, and breezes come through. When it rains, we watch water bubble off the roof. From the moment we wake up, we feel directly connected to the environment.” (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
“People go to a lot of lengths putting in crown molding to make their homes look like something else,” says Hasell’s husband, Gary. “But our beams and struts are an important and elegant part of the design.” (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
The covered ipe-wood porch off the master bedroom faces southeast, affording front-row seats at sunrise. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
For the master bedroom, Hasell borrowed ideas from Japanese homes where every inch counts. The cubical storage behind the bed conceals a pullout vanity and mirror. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Behind the bed: abundant storage. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Detail of the master bedroom’s cabinetry. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Drawers in the master bath were designed to maximize storage while accommodating the plumbing. A sink, a shower and a toilet are each compartmentalized. “The Japanese usually have only one bathroom, but they separate everything,” Hasell says. “So, like they do, one of us can use the shower while the other uses the toilet.”

Around the other corner, the washer and dryer are tucked behind convenient slide-away panels. “Designing the laundry area into the walls was a way to make what would have been just circulation space functional space,” she says. Countertops and walls were done in the same earthy Peruvian travertine. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Throughout the house, structural elements become decorative features. Glulam columns hold open bookshelves so that favorite titles are visible upstairs and down. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Time)
Hasell by the downstairs shelving. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Time)
The rear of the house, photographed before landscaping was completed. Hasell was careful to site the house to avoid the worst of the summer sun while still framing views of the backyard pool and Saddleback Mountain. She says the function of the house was shaped partly by growing up in a two-story house in Canada, where her immigrant parents rented out the top floor to scrape by, and a stint living in space-challenged Japan, where her husband, Gary, designed hotels for Walt Disney Imagineering. The lower floor has its own entrance and can serve either as an office or guest quarters.

Raising two children in a tract house in Tustin was another powerful influence. “Now I understand what makes those houses unlivable,” says Hasell, who left the Newport Beach firm of Bauer & Wiley and started her own firm in 2002. “Ours had a vaulted ceiling and was always either too hot or too cold. Spaces morphed into each other and had no definition. The orientation, light and acoustics were bad. Living there was a visceral reminder of what I needed to pay attention to when designing houses.” (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Time)
The beam at right delivers rainwater to plants around the house. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Time)
Another photo of the house, its landscaping still a work in progress. The design is a departure for Orange County, where developers tend toward nostalgic architecture that sometimes is little more than plain boxes gussied up with shutters and red tile, says Dana Cuff, a professor of architecture and the director of the urban design think tank cityLAB at UCLA. “The building industry is tied to the lending industry, so when real estate values or mortgage defaults go up, the investment is greater and the more risk-averse everyone becomes,” Cuff says. “The irony is that people have an emotional association with traditionalism, but it’s a traditionalism based on invented traditions and invented interpretations. If you go to Spain or Italy, you won’t find anything like what passes for Spanish Colonial or Tuscan here.”  (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Time)
“Southern California is known for its adventurousness, its offbeat ideas and creative industries,” Cuff says. “But while people might like the way Walt Disney Concert Hall looks, they don’t necessarily want it in their neighborhood. For some reason, contemporary design feels like a stranger in their midst. Any change is inherently threatening.”

Hasell says her goal was timeless appeal: “I wanted to build what’s appropriate for our climate, our latitude, our expansive way of living that is Californian.”

Click here to see more home tours(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)