OWIU – the Los Angeles-based architecture firm co-founded by Joel Wong and Amanda Gunawan – unveils its latest project, a mid-century modern home set in the foothills of LA's Mount Washington neighborhood. Perched on Palmero Drive and originally built in 1955, the newly reimagined 8,400-square-foot home unfolds against a backdrop of the iconic Los Angeles skyline.

By building in harmony with the surrounding landscape, OWIU has transformed the once-neglected home into a refuge of calm. "Much of our design leans toward the ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, enabling us to achieve a visceral effect" Amanda Gunawan explains.

Composing for Harmony

For Gunawan and Wong, the promise of subtlety and neutrality are core to their design approach. “The space shouldn’t energetically spark something in you; you should feel neutral.” Gunawan believes a home should be a retreat of calm, an “uncharged space” that asks the mind to quiet, to take pause. “If you go in strong [with design], it energizes you quickly and then promptly dies out.”

For both partners, the term “neutrality” in no way means a lack of point of view. Neutrality is a vehicle for harmony, considering every detail in order to maintain an energetic balance, and then leaving just enough room for authorship. “It is collaborative design in the truest sense, egoless in its inclusion of the many hands that manifest a vision and then an almost Buddhist act in then, letting it go,” Wong elaborates.

Intentional Openness

“The openness was intentional. To be able to demarcate a space without using a wall is important to us,” Gunawan continues. Subtle steps between rooms, symbolic textural differences, and plays on transparency that mimic separation without interrupting the lines of space. “The whole house needs to flow in synchronicity. It’s action-oriented and makes you aware of the changes in space, whether you mentally register that or not, your body feels the transition.”

Upon entering 4115 Palmero, the eye is directed towards the substantial garden through floor-to-ceiling windows that offer a backdrop of palm trees and the distant Los Angeles skyline. “We were drawn to the home’s seclusion from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles,” continues Wong. The outdoor deck takes into consideration the plot’s topography, using interweaving curves sculpted from the land to create harmony with nature. Every surface, inside and out, is painted to reflect the landscape, from terracotta to beige, and the foyer is finished in Venetian plaster, bringing the delicate texture of the surrounding mountains into the home. OWIU preserved any elements that could be used, including reclaimed wood.

The Use of Glass Blocks

OWIU playfully integrates glass privacy blocks – a quintessential mid-century modern design element that is slowly becoming extinct. Often misaligned to a period of garish flash from the 80s, Gunawan is seeking to restore the material to its original mid-century glamor and refigure what might otherwise be considered obsolete. “We found the material to be highly versatile and intriguing; not only does it possess structural integrity, it also allows light to enter,” explains Wong. OWIU uses the glass blocks for a wall between the bathroom and main living area, achieving privacy without obstructing flow. The blocks are also used as the base of the impressive bean-shaped kitchen counter, allowing the fixture to seemingly float.

Master Bedroom and Japanese Zen Garden

Inspired by the tea ceremony rooms common to ryokans, OWIU built an elevated deck from the master bedroom, evoking a platform in a Zen garden that reflects the change of space from room to garden, easing the home dweller into the natural space. The action is so unassuming and unaggressive that one might forget this step after the routine of living, but this is precisely the goal: a ritualized transition into calming spaces. The step-down leads, almost imperceptibly, into the garden. “We wanted the inhabitants of the master bedroom to have a space they could escape to, one that promotes stillness and contemplation,” concludes Gunawan.

Wong and Gunawan worked with friend and vintage furniture collector Jullie Nguyen from Ban Ban Studio on sourcing original vintage items, which include a 1980s Six-Piece Modular Sofa by Vladimir Kagan for Preview, three Isamu Noguchi lamps, George Nelson pendants, and a 1980s Bernard Vuarnesson “Hexa” coffee table for Bellato. These pieces brought a distinctly modern- yet-practical touch to the home while remaining in harmony with the existing architecture and new design elements.