Architect finally gets to build his dream home - but for new owner

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 January, 2014, 12:29pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 January, 2014, 12:29pm

In 2008, architect Kevin Tsai was working for award-winning Lorcan O'Herlihy Architects when he stumbled upon a rare empty lot in Playa del Rey, California.

He bought the property with an eye to the future and proceeded to design a modest, modern home for himself, his wife and their two children.

"It was a dream house for my family," Tsai says. "I designed it so I could add a second storey later."

Six months after he completed the 1,450-square-foot home, Tsai lost his job in the wake of the economic downturn and was forced to sell the house.

The Taiwanese-born architect moved his family to Hong Kong, where construction was booming at the time, but returned to Los Angeles six months later. He then was able to fulfil his vision for the Playa del Rey home, even though he wasn't living there.

Max and Sonia Kim, the couple who had bought the house from Tsai, asked him to reimagine it, and the architect's wish for a second storey was realised in 2012.

"There was something beautiful about going to Kevin," says Max Kim. "They didn't want to move out of the house. I wanted to honour him."

Kim says they always knew that they wanted to add on. "After living in the house for two years with two children, we knew how we wanted to live."

Tsai redesigned the house as a series of open, connected spaces that also provide privacy. He moved the bedrooms on the first floor upstairs, where he designed two master suites separated by a study for the Kims' two boys.

A sense of transparency permeates the living areas downstairs, which are illuminated by ample windows and a glass-panelled staircase in the middle of the space. Rooms are set up as a series of exposed living areas, with the dining room, living room and kitchen as one open space at the front of the house, a private television room concealed in the middle and a music room that doubles as a guest room.

Perhaps the most dramatic update is the upstairs master bedroom, an open, light-filled space that is wrapped in floor-to-ceiling glass. From the street, the room appears to be floating above the original house.

That was Tsai's intent. But because of its exposure to the street, the glass-box design was initially difficult for the couple to come to terms with.

"We don't like being revealed," says Kim. "But we wanted a sense of elegance and timelessness."

Kim is happy with the results. Even though the curtains are generally closed, he said the bedroom windows contribute to an amazing luminosity. The diaphanous linen drapes temper exposure from the sun but bathe the room in light.

The house is emblematic of the Kims' love of the understated. "We are traditional and like being surrounded by simple, classic things," Kim says.

And while it is modern, the home is furnished with elegant mid-century pieces by Charles Eames and Isamu Noguchi. There is also very little colour - the walls are museum white and the bathroom and kitchen surfaces are white tones. Simple materials include hand-crank aluminum windows.

Asked if it was hard to work on the house he had to leave behind, Tsai is philosophical. "It was more gratifying to finish the second storey and find the right owners for the house I designed. I feel everything happens for a good reason."