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11.18.2013
House> Clementi/Smith-Clementi Residence
A formerly-dilapidated shack in Venice has been transformed into a light-filled modern home.
Undine Prohl

Walking through the streets of Venice, it is fun to explore how home styles have evolved over the years, from rough-around-the-edges bungalows to understated modern, unusual post modern, and sleek contemporary concoctions. The home of architects Frank Clementi and Julie Smith-Clementi, located on one of the area’s lovely walk streets, showcases several of these changes under a single roof.

The Clementis, who are principals at local firm Rios Clementi Hale Studios, began work on the house in 1996, converting the small, dilapidated 1920s shack into a light-filled, modern, two-story edifice with a butterfly roof. The project was brought to life through creative uses of inexpensive materials, like angular lap siding, reclaimed maple boards, discontinued tile, patterned plastic laminate, and folded dark metal.

 
 

Time marched on, and the couple recently finished an addition that includes renovations and updates to the existing house, a new garage and master bedroom, and a 3,400-square-foot garden, which the couple now shares with Julie’s mother, who bought the house next door.

The oasis-like yard is a stunner, with new planters, lines of garden vegetables, a wide selection of flowering plants, and a massive magnolia tree that serves as the centerpiece. Clementi calls the tree the property’s “unspoken hero.” So the first step in the renovation was to better connect the home to the outdoor space. The architects installed new sliding glass doors, window walls, and (second story) clerestories, and enhanced diagonal view corridors and the sense of openness. The couple moved and opened the kitchen to the rear deck, fitting it with a built-in banquette and with sleek white cabinetry.

 

The biggest change was the addition of a new back structure, which stands out the second you approach the home. On its first floor is a masonry garage. The bedroom space above in every way feels like a tree house. On the exterior a jagged arrangement of 4-by-12 Douglas Fir planks are imbedded into the CMU to form a sculptural skin that supports the weight of the ceiling above and provides seismic resistance.

“Once we were about hiding the structure; now we’re about exposing it,” said Frank Clementi of his different approaches to the home over the years. “It’s now about honesty, not slight of hand.”

   
 

The look of this composition has been nicknamed “French fries” and the “wood basket” by neighbors, who at first seemed worried about the plans but now have come around, said Clementi. The wood planks and the tree house feel were loosely inspired by that “hero” tree in the yard, which is clearly visible from up there.

Inside, the room is clad in plywood, including a 7-foot-tall plywood headboard, and it has a cork floor and Douglas Fir window frames. The tall wood exterior planks provide privacy, but also let in natural light and air. Window walls and sliding glass doors bring in more, particularly from the room’s outdoor balcony. The space also contains walk in closets, a bathroom, a hanging fireplace, and hanging wood bookshelves. Connecting this structure to the main house is a bridge containing a bedroom and an open family room, adding to the sense of flow throughout the house.

A lot of the subsequent changes to the house, said Clementi, came not just from moving away from modernism (a process he calls “urban natural selection”), but from living at the house and “figuring out what was happening.” He added, “You really get an undeniable sense of what the site is and community is. We were lucky.”

Sam Lubell