The serene Los Angeles house that fashion designer and lifestyle guru Jenni Kayne created with Belgian architect Vincent Van Duysen feels like a mission statement articulated in three dimensions. It tells you everything you need to know about her aesthetic sensibility, her priorities, and the DNA of her brand. With its spare, soulful volumes and its eminently calm, neutral palette of natural materials, the structure neatly encapsulates Kayne’s Cali-centric vision of gracious, effortless living. It’s a bravura performance, delivered sotto voce.
More than anything, though, the house is a proper home, a refuge Kayne shares with her husband, luxury real estate maven Richard Ehrlich; their three children, Tanner, Ripley, and Trooper; and a small menagerie of two dogs, goats, rescued mini horses, and a mini donkey named Walnut. “I learned so much building this place with Vincent—how I want to live, what matters to me, what makes the most sense for my family,” says Kayne, whose new book, Pacific Natural at Home, a love letter to great California houses and the women who created them, hits bookstores this month. “The house feels like a more grown-up version of me,” she adds.
Kayne’s adventure began when she and Ehrlich decided to decamp from their home in Beverly Hills (AD, October 2012) for greener pastures. “I described my dream property to Richard, a place with lots of trees and breathing space, somewhere you wouldn’t feel like you’re in L.A. anymore,” Kayne recalls. Ehrlich located the ideal plot of land, replete with soaring oaks and sycamores, discreetly tucked away in a canyon on L.A.’s far west side. In short order, the couple reached out to Van Duysen and set up a meeting in New York City. “Honestly, it felt like a nervous first date,” the designer says, “but by the time it was over, we were fast friends.”
For Van Duysen, the commission afforded a welcome opportunity to explore the intersection of his own highly distilled, Belgian-born architectural language with the lingua franca of an entirely different culture and climate. “I’m a modernist, heart and soul, and I’ve always been inspired by the particular kind of modernism that emerged in California. I was interested to see how I could participate in that history and still remain true to my own work,” the architect explains, characterizing Kayne’s home as a “beautiful synchronization of a midcentury attitude revisited by a Belgian attitude.”
The house indeed nods to the spirit of midcentury California architecture, particularly in its complex inter-weaving of indoor and outdoor space and its intoxicating pas de deux of shadow and light. Van Duysen, working with project architect Humberto Nobrega, plotted the structure as a series of interconnected solids and voids that pinwheel around a central courtyard garden. The most dramatic gesture of interior/exterior blurring unfolds in the lofty living room, where a massive window wall of sliding glass panes opens to the outdoors, inviting an adjacent hillside peppered with glorious California oaks into the heart of the home.