Architect John Bertram moved to Los Angeles in 1997 and worked with Marmol Radziner on the restoration and remodeling of Neutra’s Brown House. He founded his own studio in 1999 and Eliot Mitchell joined in 2004. Together they put their particularly warm stamp on modern architecture. Here we take a look at a writer’s studio they designed in the hills behind Los Angeles’ Griffith Park.
JOHN BERTRAM: Among our projects, one of my favorites is the tiny writer’s studio that Eliot Mitchell and I designed in 2008 and completed last year. Perched on a steep hillside abutting a remote area of Griffith Park in Los Angeles, this rather austere, self-contained structure intended for meditation and quiet inspiration can be quite neatly described by the Russian word пустынь or poustinia (the word literally means desert): a small simply furnished and preferably remote cabin to which a monk would retreat to fast and pray in solitude and silence.
The writer’s studio is in the rear portion of a large property and access is from the backyard of the main house from which a nearly invisible bluestone stairway winds up a hillside heavily planted with agave, yucca, cactus and other drought-resistant plants. Half of the building is set into the hillside and the other half cantilevers out over it. Rattlesnakes, lizards, coyotes and ravens, are frequent visitors, and most days red-tailed hawks can be sighted circling overhead. One can also scramble farther up the hill and take a hike in the park. It’s a perfect place to spend an hour, an afternoon, or a weekend.
The teak desk, bed, cabinet and shelves (all of these are built-ins carefully designed by us to integrate into the structure with maximum efficiency), as well a separate toilet and sink area, fit neatly into a space barely totaling 200 square feet. Oversized sliding windows pocket completely into the structure, with no corner post to obstruct the views of adjacent hills and, on a clear day, the Pacific Ocean.
The small deck at the entrance is just large enough for a few chairs and in the rear corner we’ve designed an outdoor shower. The exterior siding and decking of ipe is designed to gray out gracefully and nicely complements the teak built-ins and rustic teak flooring inside the studio.
There is something wonderful about designing a project of this scale. We find we can practice the craft of architecture in a way that would be nearly impossible with a much larger project. The writer’s studio is really a piece of exquisitely built furniture and we are able to be attentive to every single detail, define exactly how one material should intersect another, and make sure that it is built accordingly. This is how we prefer to work and, happily, I think that the result of all of this care and devotion can be experienced quite holistically in the certain difficult-to-define contemplative quality of the completed space.