Suburban Renewal

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A drab split-level home is transformed into a modern showpiece with the addition of a "light box" to the rear facade, adding space on two levels and bringing in abundant natural light.

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Before choosing a single material or product for his own house in Redondo Beach, Calif., designer Robert Sweet was well on his way to creating a sustainable dwelling. He included a home office on the main level, thus removing the necessity of a gas-consuming commute along Los Angeles-area freeways. And he limited the home's size to 1,420 square feet, which, along with the rear yard and pool, provides plenty of elbowroom for Sweet, girlfriend Lauren Bayne, and their dog, Rosci. “Relating the floor plan to the large backyard allows me to use the yard as living space,” he says.

The project is technically a renovation. Sweet tore down the original 920-square-foot house on the property and reused its foundation and external framing, keeping to the existing footprint. He mapped out an open kitchen, living, and dining space with custom 14-foot pocket doors that lead to the backyard and revamped kidney-shaped pool. Sweet's kitchenette-equipped studio adjoins a guest bedroom and bath and has a separate entrance, which allows him the option of turning it into a rental apartment someday. “I needed that flexibility to make it affordable for me,” he says. Alternatively, he could convert the studio to a third bedroom.

Sweet topped the project's one-story garage with a cantilevered master suite, which shades the parking area. More examples of passive solar design include strategically placed windows and light-colored rooftops and exterior walls. A high-efficiency woodburning stove often provides enough heat for the winter, and ceiling fans help cool the interiors in hot weather. Other low-impact choices, such as bamboo flooring, FSC-certified cedar siding, a tankless water heater, and native plants, serve to further minimize the project's carbon footprint.

what lies beneath There's no doubt that salvaging his home's original concrete foundation helped Robert Sweet financially. But the reuse strategy had other important benefits. It kept the building's existing footprint intact, which enabled Sweet to register it as a remodel and bypass local code requirements for new construction. Plus, the very notion of saving all that concrete supported his sustainable approach.

The renovation included a new second level above the garage, so the foundation there needed extra support. Sweet and his structural engineer, Paul Christenson, P.E., inserted concrete pads under the existing footings and added a new steel grade beam—minor steps compared to the task of replacing an old foundation. “It doesn't always save money, because sometimes you have to do a lot to the existing foundation,” Sweet cautions. “But in my case, we hardly had to do anything.”

project: Sweet Residence, Redondo Beach, Calif.
designer: ras-a inc., Redondo Beach
landscape designer: Swamp Pink Landscape Design, Los Angeles
structural engineer: Palos Verdes Engineering Corp., Rolling Hills Estates, Calif.
project size: 920 square feet (before), 1,420 square feet (after)
site size: 0.1 acre
construction cost: $200 per square foot
photography: Robert Sweet, ras-a inc.