duane house

Located in the hills of East Los Angeles, walking distance from Silverlake Reservoir, the co-principals of OWIU, Joel Wong and Amanda Gunawan both restored and reimagined an iconic home on Duane St. As their personal residence, the home is an amalgamation of their accrued knowledge over years of practice, their design philosophies, and a meditation on lifestyle in a large city.

Already a masterful canvas, OWIU sought to highlight the storied design history of the 1,600 sq ft, 4 unit multifamily home while adding their own influences to work in dialogue with the existing architecture. Originally built in 1962 by renowned mid-century modern architect Carl Maston, the property was later owned and re-designed by Swiss architect Pierre de Meuron, and then by Meuron’s son who then sold the property to OWIU. For Wong and Gunawan, it was a symbolic opportunity to extend the legacy of the home. Core to the firm’s design philosophy is to preserve and enhance existing elements that speak to the overall story and personality of a space. By keeping structural elements such as the brick flooring and basic layout relatively untouched, Wong and Gunawan were able to renovate the space while still maintaining the essential elements of the property.

Partly chosen for the location, Duane House sits in the heart of bustling Silverlake but remarkably feels secluded, encased in lush greenery and perched atop a hill. Wong and Gunawan wanted to be near the conveniences of the city but looked to their home as an opportunity to balance out the noise and everyday hustle of living in Los Angeles. Balance is at the core of all their work. Gunawan explains, “A home shouldn’t energetically spark you. It should be a place for meditation. You come home to recharge, re-balance.” Inspired by Japanese ryokans, the design focused on conveying tranquility and openness.

The couple used nature and the relationship between interior and landscape to further the idea of balance in their design concept. The floor to ceiling glass and the verdant and wild nature immediately surrounding the home give the feeling that they could just as easily be in a forest distant from the city. “I never understood why we needed to leave town or go far away to feel we’re in nature. I love that we can build a home that brings the feeling of retreat and peace to my everyday life.”

To preserve the original openness of the space while adding an option for privacy, floor to ceiling sliding shoji screens were installed to offer options for partitioning the space on both floors. The shoji screens also echo the lines of wood paneling throughout the house, creating an almost grid-like pattern throughout the home to break up the open canvas.

The wood paneling visually connects the first floor living room with the bedroom directly above it, serving as a sculptural window feature that also offers privacy. The paneling is again referenced in a custom console fitted to the curve of the staircase.

The gridded wood pattern is extended out to the newly constructed wellness center extension, unifying the two spaces. The wellness center was designed around the concept of a modern ryokan, a space both for rejuvenation and meditation. Encased in floor to ceiling glass and set against the lush landscape of the Silverlake hills, the extension feels both secluded and open to nature. Warmed by akari lamps and natural light and featuring a cold plunge tub and sauna, the wellness center becomes a retreat within the home.

Other meditative elements were added to the house to align with OWIU’s belief that a home should also serve as a call for tranquility. A custom wood platform made from kiln dried Douglas Fir was installed just at the base of the staircase to remind the guest they are “ascending” into a more intimate space. The Douglas Fir wood was dried by the team themselves in kilns they use to create their own ceramic pieces, also present through the house. The platform also serves as a symbolic pause before entering the home, a reminder to leave the city outside the door and enter into a different energy as well as a different space.

A double volume ceiling adds subtle yet dramatic detail and dimensionality to the living room space. The lowered ceiling above the dining room space creates intimacy before it opens up into the living room with lifted ceilings to highlight natural light and a focal design piece, the Corbusier LC4 chair.

The original natural brick floor of the living room was refinished and preserved to maintain the character of the original design. The earthy deep color anchors the light wood palette used throughout the design of the house. Hanging akari lights were installed to break up the ample floor to ceiling space as well as to aesthetically connect the wellness center which is visible from both the living room and dining room.

Adjacent to the living room and formal dining room, the kitchen was remodeled with hidden storage, including a wood paneled refrigerator to align seamlessly with the cabinetry. Overhead storage was also installed to open up counter space. Directly in front of the kitchen, OWIU created a secondary dining nook for more casual meals.

An homage to the mid-century modern homes that have defined the East Los Angeles landscape and inflected with Japanese traditional design principles, Duane House is both classic and contemporary all at once. A signature residential project for the team, the Duane house is a culmination of many tenets of the firm’s design philosophy. The careful preservation to detail, the addition of modern comforts, and the subtle references to Asian influences create a secluded escape from the city only steps away.