August 1, 2010

Color Field: A Santa Monica Condo by Kevin Walz

Kevin Walz shares quite a history with retired investor Guy Gorelik. “He was among my first 10 clients,” Walz says. After a handful of projects—spread across one decade and two states, New York and California—he found himself back at a Los Angeles condominium that he’d given a cosmetic overhaul to 14 years earlier, before artist Joyce Gorelik entered the picture. Space was tight, just over 1,000 square feet, but he and the Goreliks were smitten by the fourth-floor apartment’s prime asset, a view of the beach, the sunset, and the Santa Monica pier. 

He therefore thought he knew what he was getting into the second time around. But the project’s more extensive scope soon revealed structural problems from hell. Discovery came while revamping the two bathrooms. He begins the litany of defects: “We opened up the walls to find missing studs and compromised joists. We had to rewire, install seismic upgrades, and fix the plumbing.” No wonder the process stretched out to more than two years, while the budget ballooned. Yet perseverance paid off. Intricately detailed, the compact dwelling emerged as pure Walz, mixing his production pieces and custom furnishings against a polychrome background conceived like a canvas.

A trained painter, Walz still exhibits, and art was the driving force behind the Goreliks’ renovation. Richard Diebenkorn came to mind, appropriately since his studio used to be a few blocks away, and his Ocean Park series of oils on canvas gave Walz the idea to color-wash the apartment’s walls, bringing richness to the spec-built boxiness. “The strong colors were what Diebenkorn might’ve used,” Walz says. “It was risky. I wasn’t sure it was going to work.” But it does, partially thanks to his choice of traditional milk paint. First, he created his composition, using bands of mustard yellow and fern green to suggest a frieze and baseboard against a field of ocean blue. Then he painted over the blue with oyster white in the public spaces and gray-blue in the bedroom and the study, which doubles as a guest room. The process continued with intermittent sanding and a final coat of wax, together producing a texture that recalls the frescoes of Rome, Walz’s adopted city. “Everyone who comes in here remarks on the color of the walls,” Joyce Gorelik says.

Paneling complements the paint. Zebrawood panels in the dining area slide back for access to the heating unit. In the bedroom, pull-out wardrobes are fragrant cedar. Walz went with teak for the bathrooms’ floor-to-ceiling medicine cabinets, which back the doors. “I got the idea from a Neopolitan shop where the storefront becomes part of the display,” he explains. 

His upholsterer in Rome made the curtains from six layers of nylon mesh, creating an effect he calls “an acid trip of light,” as well as fabricating the velvet-covered sofa and covering the settee in burlap. Continuing the Italian travelogue, he proceeded to Puglia, where limestone for the kitchen counter and the bathroom sinks and flooring was quarried. “This is the dense stone of Italian sidewalks and cathedrals,” he explains-offering a benediction to CAD files. “Everything came in perfectly.” A Sardinian cooperative, a particular favorite, provided the handwoven wall-to-wall carpet in unpigmented wool. Instead of laying rugs on top in strategic spots, he specified a change in construction, from loop to cut-pile, or color, from dark brown to grass green.

No stranger to Sardinia, Walz first visited in 1995, when he was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome, and has been making cork furniture on the island ever since. By now, his cork side chairs are classics. New to our eyes is the cork bed, a design he’s started custom-making for individual clients. He loves the material for surfaces, too, as witnessed by the inch-thick cork on the desk in the study and the floor in the kitchen—where he combined the cork with another favorite, Corian. The Massachusetts studio that fabricated the Corian cabinet fronts is one of the project’s handful of stateside collaborators. Pendant fixtures of acid-etched glass were made in New York, and the stainless-steel tray table in the living area is by a Baltimore artist. Closest to home, Walz and his brother, Barry, teamed up on shelves in walnut and carbon fiber, patented for their incredible slenderness and strength.

In the study, the shelves display a small portrait of a woman painted in acrylic. Above another set of shelves, in the bedroom, hang a pair of larger landscapes in watercolor, Gorelik’s preferred medium. They’re from a series she calls Beach Scenes From My Balcony, and they were indeed painted on the balcony just a few steps away.

Danielle Calisi; Rosa Topputo: Walzworkinc. Ronald Chang Architecture: Architect of Record. IZ Construction: Metalwork. California Modern: General Contractor.

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