On a midcentury design tour of the Hollywood Hills, Stephen Mätt stumbled upon a gem: a 1954 house by architect Pierre Koenig, who built some of the most iconic modern residences in Southern California.
Low-slung and unassuming from the street, the 1,850-square-foot home had a V-shaped layout that unfolded toward a dramatic 180° panorama of L.A.
Yet the house didn't deliver on its location. "It was dark inside ― you couldn't feel the connection to the outdoors," Mätt recalls. "There was wall-to-wall shag carpet, lots of 1950s built-ins, and an entry hall with floor-to-ceiling mirrors."
The biggest eyesore, however, was the patched-together back patio that wrapped around the hillside.
A curb had been added to control erosion; beyond it, the steep slope simply dropped away, rendering much of the half-acre lot unusable. Revamping the outdoor space became his first priority.
Deck with distinct living spaces
Landscape architects Amy Korn and Matt Randolph took one look at the so-called Frankenstein backyard and knew immediately that they had to build a deck.
"There was no comfortable hangout space without falling off into the view," Korn says. Connecting the two wings of the home with a deck also made for pleasing geometry.
"The flow of the house had a shotgun feel, so we wanted to create more possibilities for movement throughout," Randolph explains.
Built of Mangaris ― a dark, eco-friendly hardwood also known as red balau ― the new deck spans the living room, kitchen, and master bedroom, expanding Mätt's usable outdoor space from 120 square feet to almost 900. Triple and quadruple sliding glass doors on two sides of the living room bring in the view and create an easy transition between indoors and out.
A cluster of low teak sofas and cement-topped tables on the deck forms a central outdoor lounge. "During parties, this is where I serve cocktails before dinner," Mätt says.
"Mixing up the furniture lets guests group themselves however they want." To the left of the lounge is a dining area used for alfresco summer meals.
To the right of the lounge, the landscape architects created another distinct outdoor space: a sheltered garden nook that gives Mätt a place to sit and read the Sunday paper.
A handsome custom trough of heavy Pennsylvania bluestone serves as both a water feature and a hearth.
Inside, a palette of pale blues, grays, and greens links to the colors of the landscape and sky.
"The house gets extremely hot in the summer, so I wanted a look that was cool but not cold," Mätt says. Removing the wall of mirrors by the entry opened the view all the way to the front door.
Over the original concrete floors, Mätt poured a pale gray epoxy (used in high-end auto showrooms) that shimmers and reflects the light from outdoors.
"It's super-durable, gives off a great sheen, and was really cheap ― about $2 a square foot," he says.
The four-year remodel was not without its hairy moments (strapping a crane to the side of the house to drill deck foundations into the hill; incurring the wrath of neighbors as tree-moving equipment blocked the morning commute).
But it's a project Mätt would gladly do all over again. "Coming home gives me a sense of relief," he says. "There are many days, like today, when I don't even need to leave the house."
Adding usable outdoor space makes the home fit Stephen Mätt's lifestyle while staying true to Pierre Koenig's design.
Preserve the view. The deck railing components ― minimalist stainless steel cables (originally designed for ships' rails) and parallel 2-by-4s instead of traditional 4-by-4 posts ― were selected for less visual interruption.
Link old and new elements. The kitchen's existing walnut cabinetry looks fresh again with new handles, a gray stain, and a new island that mimics the original cabinet design.
Add a conversation piece. For a dramatic effect, "we combined a water feature with a firepit," says landscape architect Matt Randolph. When turned on, water cascades over the top of the trough into a concrete basin underneath the gravel; stainless steel nozzles emit gas flames above the water's surface.
Landscape architecture: Amy Korn and Matt Randolph, KornRandolph, Pasadena, CA (626/564-0259).
Resources: (Top photo) Legendary Gray exterior paint from Dunn-Edwards Paints (item DE 6369; 888/337-2468). Norwood 3000 aluminum sliding doors from Fleetwood Windows & Doors (800/736-7363). Pure sofa ($5,900) and sofa corner ($3,900) with cushion sets in Stone Grey fabric from Henry Hall Designs (800/767-7738). Wabash and Thick Top concrete-topped tables in Kelp by Peter Sandback (603/899-2079). Vintage white lamp and table. All-weather rug and throw pillow ($59) in Cabana Stripe from Smith & Hawken (800/981-9888). Dr. No armchairs in Wax White by Philippe Starck for Kartell from Unica Home ($220 each; 888/898-6422). Pottery on deck from Vessel USA's Architectural Pottery Collection (858/385-1960). (Bottom photo) Pure club chairs with cushion set from Henry Hall Designs ($4,300 each; 800/767-7738). Wabash concrete-topped coffee table in Kelp by Peter Sandback (603/899-2079). Egg bird feeder in Light Aqua by J Schatz ($125; 866/344-5267). Custom water and fire feature by Water Studio and KornRandolph (310/581-2221).