A Creative Canyon Oasis

BY HEIDI MILLER PHOTOGRAPHY BY IRWIN MILLER & JACK JEFFRIES

A Creative Canyon Oasis

“With all of these details, spaces and magical moments, we strive to have a house that is experiential; one where creativity can flourish.” -Irwin Miller

Carl Jung maintained that “the creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity.” Our house of 15 years, our home, our refuge, our sanctuary, is first and foremost, a haven for play and creativity. From the moment we stepped foot into the tiny, 960 square foot house tucked into the hills of Bel Air, we felt as if it belonged to us.

We did our best to appear entirely disinterested in front of the realtor meanwhile shooting secret, wide-eyed glances to one another behind his back, and sometimes even flat-out, open mouth gasps, our shoulders shrugged, palms to the sky. “How could this be?” we asked ourselves. “This perfect little house, sitting here empty, waiting for us to discover it.” Where the property fell short on square footage, it was abundant it “spots”. A spot for the garden. A spot for a workshop. A spot for a chicken coop.

A spot in the corner, right there out front, to build a little writing studio. Yes, we would be able to utilize every nook and cranny of this Lilliputian estate.

Set in a historic and hilly neighborhood teaming with 2, 3, and sometimes 4-story houses, this was a single story on a flat lot; perfect for a young couple with, at the time, an infant child. No stairs to present danger, or detour play and exploration for our little one. With its clean lines and clear view through the house from front yard to back, the flow of the house was its biggest selling point. That was until we realized that the property also included a 560 square foot, studio guesthouse.

The main house had been built as a cabin in 1926 and had gone though multiple renovations over the years. This back house, a formal stable, had been lovingly and immaculately converted by hand, in 1968, by a previous owner. It was our own little slice of heaven, right here on earth. We had a place to live and a place to play.

Since then, the house, the studio, and our family, have all grown and evolved. We now number five in total and have adjusted the layout of the house slightly in order to accommodate the growth and keeping of three young boys. A former closet in the boys room, doors removed, became the perfect site for a third bed. The rarely-used kitchen of the guest house was ousted, making way for a second workstation in which to do homework and special projects. Just inside the entrance to the studio, a loft space was built, reached via a slim wooden ladder and boasting an iMac on which to watch movies and a collection of pillows in which to flop. An existing loft space in the main house was giving a dual entry, now accessible by both a ladder in the dining room and the tree house in the boys’ room. It is these elevated spaces where the kids and their friends tend to flock – as the act of ascending provides, in part, a sense of exploration, some privacy and a birds-eye view of their surroundings.

As our eldest son, Roman, entered his teenage years a few years ago, it became apparent that he needed his own space, prompting us to convert a section of our wide and underutilized living room into a smaller, third bedroom for him. Building this to align with one of the three sets of French doors leading to the front deck, ensured plenty of natural air and light would enter the space. A heavy, sliding barn door became the main feature of this project, which Irwin milled from redwood fence pieces into a variety of slats and painted using

Meals, both the preparation, and subsequent consumption of, have always been of paramount importance here at Seabury Lane. Irwin’s thirty-plus years in the kitchen began in a small restaurant outside of Boston where he was hired at age 13 as a salad boy. Over the years, he continued to foster his love of food by cooking in various restaurants while, simultaneously pursuing his Masters in Architecture. Now, visitants are treated to culinary delights such as lobster pasta in a vodka cream sauce, or possibly, a whole roasted leg of lamb with sides of parsnips and ginger carrots. Having built so many projects over the years by himself, Irwin would often tell friends that one can build an entire house using only a mitre saw. This past summer, he proved it to be true by designing and constructing a compact, 77 square foot writing studio for me in the front corner of our lot. The location, up until that point, had sat entirely empty, devoid of life but Irwin saw the potential and now this spot serves as a getaway oasis, creative retreat and privacy nook for this sole female in a house full of boys. Upon verbal consent, the boys are allowed to enter the ‘She Shed’ to make a private phone call, watch a movie or otherwise relish in a bit of private time, provided they leave this space as they found it, if not better than.

With all of these details, spaces and magical moments, we strive to have a house that is experiential; one where creativity can flourish. Nothing pleases us more than to have company for dinner or the occasional party and watch as our guests and friends explore the property, looks of discovery, surprise and delight on their faces, as they come across something in the house that speaks to them.

A sense of play is universally within each of us, and here, we aspire to create a world were inventiveness and imagination can run wild.

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