From the beginning, there was a meeting of the minds among architect Alexander Liberman of AML Studio and his clients, television director/producer Jesse Bochco and his wife, production designer Rae Bochco. On a double lot in Venice, California, the trio envisioned a warm, expansive family home that simultaneously paid homage to the values of California midcentury-modern architecture—economy of form, honesty in materials and construction, a sympathetic embrace between indoor and outdoor space—while allowing for idiosyncratic, personal flourishes tied to the exigencies of the site and the spirit of the young family, including the couple’s five-year-old daughter, Stevie. A prime inspiration for the design was the work of Ray Kappe, the eminent Los Angeles architect and cofounder of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, who developed his own strain of gracious, organic California modernism. “This house is more of a tribute to classic midcentury than a slavish reproduction. The feeling is midcentury meets bohemian,” Jesse explains.
“All the decisions we made revolved around light and warmth. We wanted the house to feel connected to the earth and the environment, and also connected to this neighborhood,” Rae adds, citing the primary materials palette of old-growth Western red cedar, concrete, and reclaimed white oak. Beyond conceptual underpinnings and concerns about mood and materials, there was one more stipulation that drove the design: “I love a sunken living room. That was a requirement from day one, and I would not budge,” Jesse recalls. “I was going to get my conversation pit.”
Liberman responded to the program with plans for a U-shaped, two-story structure with wings flanking an alfresco courtyard, connected by generous sunlit corridors stacked on the ground and the upper level. The strength of the architecture lies in the clarity and seeming simplicity of the composition—a simplicity that belies a rigorous selection of materials and finishes and, even more important, a painstaking attention to how those materials intersect. Consider the serene media room and bar, where black walnut paneling meets a terrazzo-like concrete aggregate floor with brass inlays. A wall of board-formed concrete—tinted to evoke the warm, sandy tone of nearby beaches and the color of the cedar—anchors one end of the room, its vertical orientation reinforcing the directionality of the wood paneling as well as the exterior cedar slats that leaven the predominant horizontality of the exterior cladding. From the outside, the concrete end wall reads like a freestanding element, slightly detached from the structure as it abuts two slender floor-to-ceiling windows. Inside, the effect is pure, unaffected serenity.
In a broad sense, Liberman describes his work as an exercise in plate tectonics, a carefully choreographed dance of materials and planes that slip from room to room, one floor to the next, inside and out. “It’s all about establishing connections and sight lines across the various spaces, creating a natural rhythm that feels easy and instinctive,” the architect muses. That idea takes shape most visibly in the tiered arrangement of the voluminous sunken living room and the open kitchen perched above, a configuration that fosters social interaction while reserving particular delights within the discrete spaces. Delineated by a broad custom banquette, the living room is indeed a great room, but not in the sense of an elephantine developer’s special. Instead, it walks the line between intimacy and grandeur with probity and grace, equally well-suited for individual repose and communal celebration.
The kitchen, much like the finely crafted bar in the media room, reflects Liberman’s expertise in hospitality, a skill he honed working in the restaurant world as both a bartender (during his collegiate years) and a designer, including his four-year stint as the in-house architect for the popular Gjelina Group. “Jesse and Rae gave me the time and budget to make those spaces truly special. They appreciate the power of small details and gestures,” the architect says.
The decorative sensibility throughout the home conforms closely to the midcentury-meets-bohemian directive, encompassing unimpeachable classics by the likes of Bruno Mathsson, Jorge Zalszupin, Afra and Tobia Scarpa, Mario Bellini, and Serge Mouille, set alongside contemporary creations by Stahl + Band, Lawson-Fenning, BZippy, and other makers tied to Los Angeles. “The clients came with great pieces of art and furniture that they’d collected themselves, so we just built on that collection,” Liberman notes. “Nothing is overly fussy or pretentious. We tried to pick things with real character and soul, things that are easy to live with,” Rae adds.
Liberman’s wife, art adviser Meredith Darrow, took a similar approach to the artworks within the home, expanding on the clients’ existing collection. “Jesse’s father [television legend Steven Bochco] was a collector, so he grew up around contemporary art, including works by David Hockney, Henry Taylor, and the Lalannes. He and Rae tend to lean more abstract in their taste, so we added pieces specific to the look and feel of this house,” Darrow offers.
“Everything we chose was selected with care—the door handles, the bar fittings, the marble in the kitchen, all of it,” Jesse concludes. “Alex came with great ideas and great craftsmen. Even the little things like the brass inlays in the floor—things that most people don’t even notice—bring us joy. It took time, it took money, but it was one hundred percent worth it.”
This Los Angeles homeappears in AD’s January2024 issue. Never miss an issue when you subscribe to AD.