Creating Memories and Moments

Transforming Residences into Homes

The work of the architect and landscape architect team is to help clients imagine places and spaces before they exist, and to reimagine existing places, buildings, and environments differently. Engaging clients by asking about their dreams, their aspirations. What would you love to do here? How would you like it to feel? What is special to you about this place? How can we create just the right atmosphere that captures your imagination through nature, the built environment, and the interbeing of the two?

It’s one of the magical elements of creating places that people love. The ability to ask the deep questions, get inside people’s heads, probing for ideas, likes, dislikes, what moves the heart, what stops it cold. And the key skill—beyond meaningful questioning—is the ability to listen. Not just listen to what’s being said, but how it’s being shared, the tone, the look, the glance. Listening on all cylinders.

This is especially important when working with people on their homes. Residential design is up front and personal. Does she love woodworking? Do they love cooking? What makes a place feel like home? What helps you relax? What makes you tick? Great designers dig for these answers and marry the findings with the opportunities that a site, its climate, the topography, and the surroundings offer as cues for blending the built environment with the natural environment, so a residence and its environs emerge as a respite from the world—the place where we create memorable moments and meaningful experiences. A place to call home.

A Lively Conversation

Ross Woodley, Landscape Architect of EPTDESIGN sat down with Ben Ballentine of Ballentine Architects Studio for a lively conversation about creating residences that feel like home. Following are three projects they discussed. The first, Sunset Plaza, was a project collaboration for the two. The second, Glen Oaks, is a project completed by Ballentine which offers the architect’s perspective. The third, Covington, is a project designed by Woodley, offering the Landscape Architect’s perspective.

A Special Place above the Clouds

Imagine a home sitting in the mountains above Los Angeles where you look down over clouds and helicopters while you sip your morning espresso. The design collaboration between EPTDESIGN and Ballentine Architects Studio on Sunset Plaza Road featured this special attribute in the renovation of a residence located at 1400 feet above sea level.

From the very beginning of the design process, the coordination and co-mingling of architecture and landscape was established. It is expressed through the blending of the home into the hillside by choosing natural materials that reflect the palette of the mountain. A guest house is semi-submerged into the hillside as well, sharing colors, textures, and design details.

According to architect, Ben Ballentine of Ballentine Architects Studio, “We wanted to create a renovation of the home, which was once referred to as a ‘hulking monstrosity,’ into something that became part of the landscape by using natural stone and choosing colors from around the site.”

Asking, listening, and responding
Design discussions were driven by how to best take advantage of the views. Everything in the master plan design was about opening the gates to the property to a vast view and an easy-to-understand circulation for guests and the family.

Ross Woodley, Landscape Architect from EPTDESIGN shared, “By meeting our client in their home, we could pick up on cues to how they live now. We addressed what kind of amenities they wanted including a swimming pool. We asked how they felt about being outside and agreed to a fire pit. The whole idea was to create the spaces in the home and on the land that support how they want to live. Ben and I very much saw our role as facilitating the experience of sharing time together for the family and their guests.”

A comprehensive landscape plan helped make sense out of the large site that is mainly rocky and interspersed with native plants. Wildfire elements and wind were factors that shaped the layout and design of plantings. But the plan goes well beyond selecting plants. The site was programmed to take advantage of some unique features, for example, converting wildlife trails into walking paths with reflection points for special moments that bring life experiences throughout the entire site.

The team discovered that one of the owners loves plants. To feed off her desire for an intimate outdoor experience, we created a garden that was sensory, moving through lavender, jasmine, fruit trees they can eat from. We incorporated a vegetable garden in a small plateau located a short way down the hillside which protects it from the wind.

The climate played a large part in the layout of the site. To tame the winds, mature oaks were introduced to the site. The space between the main house and the guest house provides shelter, as well, and features a stepped terrace leading to an infinity pool, firepit, and garden. The walk from the guest house to the main house is shaded and includes blending plant colors and scents from the plants into a sensory walking experience. These spaces, and the careful layout and interventions make it enjoyable in the daytime, as well as the evening to take in the city lights.

The main home is contemporary, warm, and organic in nature. At 10,000-square-feet, the goal was to integrate the home into the natural environment through materiality of stone, metal, and wood. Glass and window systems were designed to capture the views, so walls were eliminated to make way for steel columns and glass.

The guest house is a miniature version of the main house. It is subterranean, built semi-submerged into the hillside to keep from obstructing the main house views. The expanse between the two structures is an elegant transition space with elevation change accommodated through stepping down across the site. The pool is tucked in by the guest house for wind protection.

Balancing the natural site amenities with the built environment was deliberate and complicated. Yet by listening closely to the clients, there are many unique places and spaces for new memories.

A Carriage Estate Reborn—From the Architect’s Perspective

The Glen Oaks residence in Montecito was built in 1895 by Stanford White. Now freshly remodeled to blend old with new, this estate encompasses 9,905 square feet with five bedrooms and five full plus three half-bathrooms. The estate is constructed of full-cut heart redwood—irreplicable today—as well as hard maple, Douglas fir and oak. The property sits on a 1.65-acre site with natural oak trees, landscaping including lavenders and native plants.

Ballentine Architects Studio began work on the Carriage House building which had only undergone minor modifications to turn it into a residence. The previous owner had maintained characteristics of the carriage house—essentially a barn with stables. Each of the stalls remained intact with barn doors, influencing, and shaping the planning and design.

A sizable 6-car garage had been added to the rear of the house. It had been turned into the main living space, great room, small kitchen, and living room. The transformation was significant. The living room became a den. The kitchen became a reading retreat. The renovation touched every inch of the house. Two large pyramid skylights were added, and all infrastructure and finishes were upgraded including new doors and windows to match the original. From the ground floor, you can see remnants of the barn, such as exposed rafters upstairs, and walls from the original building.

A wonderful transformation occurred with the renovation of an old storage barn on the property into a 1000-square-foot guest house that includes an ensuite bedroom, living room, and kitchen.

Ben Ballentine said, “We worked closely with our client who has an incredible design eye. Once we understood his initial desires, we turned our attention to the outdoor space and came up with a workable plan.”

The home is three stories on a slope with beautiful oak trees off the back of the house. There is a direct connection from the house to specific outdoor living spaces. The backyard is luxurious with a sequencing of outdoor spaces including lawns, olive trees and large patios. A reflective pond, fire pit, garden, and bocce ball court complete the property. All these features were designed to be center-lined with the architecture, doors, and entrances.

Within the main home and the guest house, we created connections to the outside that provide special places for new memories and moments to emerge.

Said Ballentine, “The key was listening to our client’s ideas, remaining open minded to how we worked with the space, and staying true to the historic property, completely modernizing and updating it for a renewed lifecycle of the house.

Fostering Connections on Covington—From the Landscape Architect’s Perspective

This is a story about a family living side-by-side in two colonial houses of very similar architecture on Covington in Pasadena, California. The parents live in one and their daughter and granddaughter live next door. As the granddaughter grew to 18 months, the family decided it wanted to create a connection between the houses so she could visit her grandparents easily.

Said Woodley, “The outdoor space between the houses provided opportunities for the families to meet, play, and simply dwell enjoying sunsets off to the west.”

Once again, the design solutions were derived from deep listening. Together with architectural designer Luke Hamilton, and interior designer Emily Hancock of Rollins Andrew Interiors, the team’s creativity fed off each other and responded to the architecture and site.

Listening to cues from their client, the daughter, the primary goal for her front yard was to make an inviting entry from the sidewalk to the front door and to create a greater visual connection with the adjoining property owned by the clients’ parents. Some shrubs were removed, and a new driveway and trash enclosure were designed. Plantings that complement the architecture were added to enhance the beauty of the property.

The back yard was designed as a series of rooms which begins with a garden court on axis with the front door. Renovation of the home included extensions on two sides creating the courtyard setting which opens access to a new outdoor barbeque and kitchen located near the indoor kitchen. Further connections to the new loggia—the outdoor corridor with fully covered roof and outer wall open to the elements—and existing colonial garden house were incorporated into the design.

At the client’s request, a ‘secret’ connection was created between the houses to provide a charming way for the granddaughter to visit her grandparents.

Additionally, as requested by the owner, the pool was removed and compacted to make way for new formal garden rooms to complement the renovated home and southern California indoor outdoor garden living.

A series of patios were created, designed to match the colonial style of the houses, which provide indoor and outdoor living spaces. The architecture allowed connection with beautiful French doors. Walking through the entry patio is about transitioning through space—a beautiful patio with barbeque, and the covered porch, provide a place for sitting and enjoying time together. On the east side of the property, we’ve added steps to a sunken lawn with two benches where children can play while adults visit.

By carefully designing the spaces between the houses, the team was able to help create even more connectedness for making memories together.

Sunset Plaza Road is currently in progress.
The Glen Oaks Residence was completed by Ballentine Architects Studio in 2023.
The Covington Residence is expected to be completed by EPTDESIGN in Summer 2024.