Designer Beth Holden developed the house with Greenberg, husband Rob Green, 7-year-old daughter Violet and 5-year-old son Zed in mind. But with distressed, diamond-scored concrete floors and walls punctuated by Greenberg's portraits — pieces from "End Times," her controversial series of crying babies, as well as portraits of some disturbingly human-like monkeys — the house can feel like an art gallery. It's modern and pristine, with slate-blue and icy gray walls that reference Greenberg's photography palette, plus a layer of flash and a slightly surreal quality that will be familiar to Greenberg fans. Fittingly, the house itself will be on exhibition later this month, one of four stops on the American Institute of Architects' fall home tour in Los Angeles.
The transformation from 1940s brick-and-stucco "bastardized ranch," as Greenberg and Holden describe it, to a curvaceous modern retreat started with a simple wish for more space.
In 2001, Greenberg was single when she bought a two-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot house in Hollywood Hills West, an area that locals call Bluebird Canyon. Four years later, married and pregnant with their second child, Greenberg and Green decided they needed another bedroom.
"We thought we could build a master bedroom on top of the one-story ranch," Greenberg said. "Then we said, 'If we're already building up, let's double the size of the footprint with an entire second story.' And from there, we said, 'Since we're doing that, why don't we change the exterior?'"
The couple met Holden, principal of the firm New Theme in Los Angeles, and they began what became a five-year process to create a thoroughly contemporary home and office whose growing size was mitigated by sustainable attributes. The designer added a wing for Greenberg's studio and a family/guest room, turning the once L-shaped home into a U with a small lawn and pool at the center. A new second level contains three bedrooms and three bathrooms, plus a laundry room and a home office for Green, who runs Another Green World Productions, bringing total square footage to nearly 6,200.
A third level — an alfresco rooftop lounge, garden and kids play area covered with artificial turf — adds 1,200 square feet.
The structure originally exceeded the city's floor-area-ratio, or FAR, codes, but Holden successfully obtained a variance by demonstrating that the new scheme was in keeping with the size and scale of neighboring properties and by showing that the design incorporated sustainable elements, including solar panels that double as a rooftop sunshade.
Because the homeowners wanted LEED certification, the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design designation, they selected cabinetry made from Forest Stewardship Council certified walnut, blown-in cotton insulation, radiant heating under the concrete floor, recessed LED lighting and a gray-water system that irrigates the landscape.
Holden pushed back the footprint of second-floor rooms, giving them an ample ipe wood deck that functions as living space while creating large roof overhangs that passively cool the interiors. Fleetwood doors made of energy-efficient dual-glaze glass act as movable walls, opening up the first floor to the lawn and the second floor to the wraparound deck.
The project attracted notice from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's "green team," according to Krista Kline, the former team leader who now runs green projects for the L.A. Housing Department. "This project was groundbreaking," she said. "They started prior to the city having a green building code, and it was very nice for us to look at this project and see where we should focus our efforts, such as with solar and gray-water ordinances."
Two skylights above the staircase help to provide passive cooling, venting hot air from the house. Elsewhere, several north-facing skylights let light penetrate to the second floor — and playfully allow anyone on the roof to peer down to the interiors below.
"The skylights and windows were meant to let you feel and experience the light and shadows," Holden said. When viewed from the street, a large picture window over the front door frames another dramatic sight: a Scabetti light fixture composed of hundreds of tiny fish made of bone china.
The white stucco facade is a subtle nod to a relief map, the various lines defined by the cast of shadows on a bright day.
"This site is actually a drainage zone, so I studied old geological maps and superimposed topography lines on the building's surfaces," Holden said. "I tried to create moments between the existing site and the new architecture."
Those soft curves are repeated inside — on the staircase and walls, in custom-carved Corian counters for the kitchen and bar area, and in the ceiling. Recesses in the ceiling not only add height and volume in the kitchen and living room but also hide LEDs.
Holden worked with her husband and business partner, Wolfgang Melian, to design an entry console, children's room dressers and other built-in furniture that floats above the floor.
"Yes, this design helps lighten the spaces and make the rooms look larger, but it's a practical 'mom thing' too, since they are easy to clean under," Holden said.
Many rooms are meant to serve multiple functions. The first-floor bathroom is a place for kids to rinse off after a dip in the pool as well as a dressing room that can accommodate a clothing rack during shoots.
Greenberg selected most of the furniture — "things I found in magazines like Wallpaper or by trolling the Internet," she said. A circular white leather sofa follows the curves of the living room wall; a dining table from MDF Italia is complemented by white leather chairs by Philippe Starck for Italian manufacturer Cassina and a white, hand-tufted Esquire rug with a three-dimensional faceted pattern from Top Floor.
Bright colors appear only where the children sleep. "Jill and Rob wanted the children's spaces to be playful," Holden said, so Violet's room has violet-hued walls, and Zed's has a red bunk bed built into a nook in the walls.
Rather than clutter up the master bedroom with a television, Holden and her clients devised a theater-style projector in a niche behind the bed. A center blackout shade serves as the screen, so Greenberg and Green can watch at night while leaving side shades open to the twinkling views of downtown Los Angeles.
His-and-hers bathrooms are connected via a walk-through glass shower. Whereas Green's is masculine and functional, Greenberg's is a luxurious female escape, complete with a free-standing soaking tub from Waterworks, a tiled fireplace, a long vanity and "The Monkey," one of her photographs, resting on the floor against the steel-blue wall. A curved window wraps around the corner of the room, its lower portion opaque for privacy.
The biggest surprise of the house, however, lies above. "The roof became our new backyard," Green said, referring to the faux lawn and a pergola made of 36 Sharp photovoltaic panels.
"By making a checkerboard of solar panels, we created an interesting pattern of light and shadow and also achieved the 50% shading needed for LEED certification," Holden said.
Vegetables and herbs grow in more than a dozen Food Map containers, wheeled troughs made of recycled plastic and irrigated by a drip system. Cushioned benches line the roof's perimeter, providing built-in party seating.
Holden and her clients declined to disclose the project budget but said they are on track to achieve LEED certification. "So many variables can make it difficult when designing on an existing site," Holden said. "I look at zoning and building codes not as things that are hindrances, but pieces of the puzzle."
In this case, the sensuous curves of each piece fit together to complete the picture — camera ready, of course.