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For some, 2 houses are better than one

Modern sculptural design of accessory home features geometric cutouts and dynamic double-height spaces

Craig Ehrlich didn't particularly want a modern house. But everything he valued - light, air, indoor-outdoor living, sustainable building materials - has led to this: a recently completed 1,150-square-foot house in Santa Monica, California, that feels much larger thanks to its modern sculptural design.

With its exterior wood screens and expanses of glass, the house is immediately intriguing. But the interior elements - the geometric cutouts in the architecture and the dynamic double-height spaces - are what make the small house feel substantial.

The design is essentially a square, but each corner of the second floor has what architect John Friedman described as unexpected "bites," like a block of cheese with wedges sliced off. The move delivers more than sunlight to the first floor. It provides an artful surprise.

"You get joy and pleasure from the way the light enters the house," said Friedman, who designed the house with partner Alice Kimm.

The large triangular cutout above the twostorey-tall living room adds to the sense of spaciousness. An adjoining Zen garden just outside glass doors is full of peace and privacy, extending the footprint of the modest floor plan. An upstairs bedroom, two bathrooms, loft-like kitchen, two-car garage and outdoor dining table set under a pergola complete the new design.

Motorized skylights allow hot air to escape in summer; radiant-heat flooring will keep rooms comfortable in winter. Rooftop solar panels that provide hot water and other environmentally friendly features put the house on track to earn gold certification in LEED for Homes, the U.S.

Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

For the architects, some of the biggest challenges came from the unusual nature of the property.

Ehrlich already owned a house on the street. When the lot next door became available, he bought it and called on Friedman and Kimm to design the new house as guest quarters for visiting family and friends, some of whom stay for months at a time. The entrepreneur said the new living room also serves as his home office.

The two houses are integrated by a powerful open landscape that includes a saltwater pool, a wood deck that serves as an arresting bridge between the two structures and the new outdoor dining terrace, which is topped with photovoltaic panels. The pool sits off to the side, leaving more room for a lawn where Ehrlich's daughter, Leah, 7, can run and play.

"He was really thinking about his daughter," architect Friedman said. "He wanted to give that traditional American backyard experience to his kid."

A retaining wall on one side of the pool creates a higher plateau that looks out over the main yard and also provides some separation from the Zen garden off the living room.

Having lived in Asia part time since 1987, Ehrlich said his exposure to multigenerational living influenced his own desire for a family compound.

"It's more than just physically living together," Ehrlich said of the environment he was hoping to create. "It's an attitude that families living together is a good thing. It's considered an honour to take care of your family."

Ehrlich stressed that his 87-year-old father is in good health, but back when his main house - also designed by Friedman and Kimm - was being built, he included a room on the first floor with grandpa in mind. Now, with the guest house for other family members built, Ehrlich said his dream for a modern family home is complete. "It's everything I imagined."