Japanese Farmhouse Modern
A La Jolla residence blends old and new, warm and cool for a Zenful ambiance
STANDING IN THE LIVING ROOM OF A LA JOLLA HOME SHE designed, architect Laura DuCharme-Conboy recalls that sourcing materials to create a Japanese farmhouse-modern hybrid required several trips to Temecula, where forklifts moved heavy pieces of wood for her viewing.
“We had such wonderful surprises,” she says of her visits to Vintage Timberworks, “like two beams that would span 36 feet. I had started planning on 12-inch-by-12-inch posts, hoping something would come up for the beam work in the ceilings.”
DuCharme-Conboy points out hatchet marks in the beams. “We didn’t seal or stain them,” she says. “We just gave them a good hosing with a walnut-shell blast.”
Butt-edged cedar planks comprising the ceiling provide a smooth counterpoint and keep the room from being what DuCharme-Conboy calls “mountain cabiny.” For the floor, she chose 8-inch-wide walnut planks.
The homeowners initially wanted an Asian-influenced, Craftsman-style home to replace what was their “beach house” when they lived in Scripps Ranch. Then inspiration struck when one of them suggested trying something more modern.
“I found [Asian and modern] a really fascinating mixture,” DuCharme-Conboy says. “Asian to me is more textures and history. Modern means clean spaces, clean details. … I saw the modern as a backdrop to the Asian. … I came up with the idea that the framework would be like a Japanese farmhouse.
“Through the whole project, it’s a balancing act between the modern and Asian influence,” she notes.
To that end, interior designer Robert Wright custom made a cabinet with minimal knobs; selected a neutral-colored, sculpted rug with a flower pattern; and upholstered Maguire chairs with Jim Thompson fabric.
“I really wanted to go to the historic texture companies like Knoll Textiles,” he says. “Japanese modernism was very popular in the ’60s, and that’s when these companies were around in homes.”
In the kitchen, he used oak cabinetry with a slight gray wash and horizontal grain to evoke “Zen calmness.” He employed the same concept — balancing cool and warm with natural materials and horizontal lines — in the master bath, where a raked limestone wall backs a Japanese soaking tub.
Walls are gray-white. “It was important to let it be the backdrop to the architecture,” Wright says. “We weren’t dependent on paint to make a difference.” The exterior of the house is similarly spare of color.
“What I had in mind was a heavy, even dark, base with lighter or white boxes that tended to float over it,” DuCharme-Conboy says. To achieve that, she used basalt — a material that appears as accents inside the house, such as a strip in the floor separating the kitchen and dining pavilion.
“The idea was that base might be reminiscent of the solid blocks used in old buildings,” the architect explains. The upper-level “boxes” reach out, while the smaller base gives the property “more elbow room” on the lot. Smooth Santa Barbara-finished stucco conveys the desired lightness.
As she did on the interior, DuCharme-Conboy employed a combination of woods on the exterior to balance the coolness of stone and stucco. At ground level, she used redwood siding. The front door is darkly stained oak. And mahogany-framed, Albertini windows are on the “warm end of modern.” The rustic posts and beams inside the house are echoed at the front portal to the house, built around an Asian gate from an import store.
The homeowners enjoy four decks: one on the ground level (just off the living room and dining pavilion), two on the second level (one off the master bedroom and one off the media room) and one on the rooftop, which is served by a dumbwaiter that also has a “station” in the master bedroom. “We fix lunch, dinner or drinks and send them,” the husband says. “People said, ‘Oh, you will never use the roof deck.’”
“We go upstairs on the roof deck a lot when the weather is right,” the wife says.
DuCharme-Conboy used one of her most unusual architectural techniques in the dining pavilion. Glass inserted between three posts in the corners give the illusion that fresh air as well as light flow freely into the room. The effect is enhanced when the tall, wall-length windows are folded open.
A water feature in the outdoor space between the living room and kitchen (pocket windows open on both sides) was inspired by an atrium fountain centered in the old home.
“We loved to hear it; there was something soothing about the water flowing,” the wife says. “But we did not want it in the middle of the house.
“The other home had a natural, cozy feel,” she continues. “I always said to Robert and Laura, ‘I don’t want a cold, modern feel.’ I wanted to come in here and have it feel warm, and I think with all the wood you can see that it is warm.”
Homes: By Janice Kleinschmidt Photography by Martin Mann