Tiny Silver Lake Auxiliary Channels by Richard Neutra

Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, aren’t for everyone who needs more space. Take architect John Bertram. After many years in Richard Neutra’s 900-square-foot McIntosh home in Silver Lake, Bertram and his wife, actress and writer Ann Magnuson, felt cramped and wanted more space but didn’t need the kitchen and bathroom that comes with an ADU .

Last year, Bertram added a soundproof backyard studio designed and approved as a recreation room over a period of five months at a cost of $170,000. It now serves as a quiet retreat where the couple can work, write and meditate in the quiet of a single room.

Like many architects, Bertram spent a lot of time thinking about architecture. And as someone well acquainted with Neutra’s work — he has restored several homes by the renowned modernist architect, including the Brown-Sidney House, which sold for $20 million in 2019 — he considered designing a freestanding extension , reflecting the architecture of Neutra’s 1939 McIntosh house.

Viewed from the living room of the McIntosh house, the free-standing recreation space holds back in the garden.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Aware of Neutra’s famous description of his homes as “machines in the garden,” Bertram was intrigued by the concept of designing an understated extension that is part of the couple’s backyard but doesn’t overpower the landscape.

For example, last year, in collaboration with contractor Alon Goldenberg of Golden Touch Construction, Bertram added a simple 12-by-12-foot (or 144-square-foot) recreation space that compliments the redwood-clad McIntosh House and preserves a significant portion of the flowering yard that served as natural habitat serves.

Like a Japanese tea house, the space is intentionally spare, with no visual distractions. Carefully positioned on the sloping backyard behind the couple’s Silver Lake home, the recreation room has a low elevation and wide Fleetwood windows, including one chest-level that opens conveniently to see Lucy, the couple’s cat. to allow easy access, a terrarium atmosphere to the unit. Similar to the main house, the lounge is compact, with multiple glass windows and views that connect the house to the landscape.

The interior of a small studio, with a tree visible through a window outside.

Views of trees and wildlife make the tiny recreation space appear larger.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

“The dialogue with the existing Neutra company is very important,” says Bertram. “It should be seen as not competing with the house, so it’s recessed 30 inches into the ground to make it as low as possible, which not only adds to the proportions of the structure, but makes it one.” makes good neighbors.”

In a dense neighborhood like Silver Lake, where helicopters, traffic and local residents create the cacophony of urban life, the architect admits the couple are more sensitive to noise than most. For this reason, it was important to create a soundproof room where they could retreat for quiet contemplation.

Bertram and Goldenberg created the acoustically isolated box by laying a concrete slab floor, insulating the structural frame from the interior with special heavy rubber brackets mounted on metal channels, and applying two layers of drywall to the walls and ceiling.

Betram's studio and home in the garden

The recreation space was designed to complement the McIntosh House designed by Richard Neutra.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

The Fleetwood windows and doors, which Bertram says cost around $25,000, are thermally insulated, which helps reduce sound transmission. Closing the door and adjusting to the silence is mesmerizing, prompting Bertram to describe it as the opposite of a sound bath. “It’s really a silent bath,” he says.

In keeping with the theme of simplicity, the interior is furnished with limited items: a West Elm sofa bed, a desk, a chair, and four oversized linen and hemp cushions that can be used as floor pillows. Four tiny, dimmable LED lights provide subtle lighting, and a soft pink color — not too blue, gray, or yellow, says Bertram — adds subtle emotion to the walls and reflects the plentiful sunlight that floods the space.

In an unexpected twist, the structure’s roof is constructed as a terrace thanks to a multi-layer waterproof decking system that allows the couple to sit amidst the trees and enjoy panoramic views of downtown Los Angeles. “We talked about building a yurt up there,” says Bertram with a smile.

A studio surrounded by plants and trees

The living room, embedded in the ground, has the appearance of a terrarium.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Sitting in the lounge, which features tongue-and-groove redwood paneling to match the main house, is a captivating experience: the large windows overlook the main house and draw in to the original persimmon and pineapple guava trees of the garden planted by the McIntosh family in the ’30s, while the farm’s spurge and hummingbird sage added by landscape architect Matthew Brown attract a constant stream of birds and butterflies.

Now, nine months after its completion, the unit has become a haven for the couple where they can work, record, create and relax. Eventually, they hope to use the space as a mini project space for art and performance, similar to Elizabeth Wild’s Winslow garagewhich is down the road from them in Silver Lake.

Bertram says if someone had told him the unit would cost $170,000, he might not have gone ahead with the project. Still, he understands why the cost of building the single room was so high: the fact that it’s sunk into the floor, the super-thick windows, the double layers of drywall and roofing.

“There is a misconception that architects can realize things cheaply,” says Bertram ironically.People have the notion that an ADU or recreation room should be less expensive even though it is essentially a house with all the necessities of a build. And, perhaps paradoxically, the smaller it is, the more expensive it becomes per square foot.”

A man sits on a rooftop overlooking palm trees and houses in the distance.

John Bertram enjoys the view from the rooftop terrace of his freestanding recreation room.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

When asked what Neutra would think of Southern California’s ADU boom, Bertram says he thinks he would embrace the idea with the caveat that even in a housing crisis, he would have strict standards.

“It’s important to note that he would set the bar very high for their implementation,” says Bertram. “Neutra not only dealt intensively with the built environment, but was also committed to socially and environmentally conscious design. In his book Survival Through Design, published in 1953, he writes: “All of our expensive long-term investments in the built environment are considered legitimate only if the designs have a high, demonstrable index of habitability. Such designs must be developed by a profession raised in social responsibility, experienced, and intent on aiding the survival of a race in grave danger of becoming self-destructive.'”

It’s a philosophy that hits home at Bertram, who cares equally about comfort. Although he works on million-dollar projects, he is drawn to life in humble shacks.

“It’s difficult to make things harmonious in a house because there are so many details,” he says. “I love the idea of ​​living with the basics. There’s something exciting about living in a small space.”

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