photography by brian holm, avenue eye.

A S t r e t c h o f t h e I m A g I n At I o n :
contemporAry home InSpIreS ArtISt
w r i tte n By: pa m e l a co r a n te - h a n S e n

with its reflecting pool, sculpture garden and ample white walls, the hollywood riviera home of mike wellens and his artist wife carolyn laliberte is a case study in elegant innovation. laliberte’s canvases and sculptures invite a visitor on a unique journey, one in which art becomes functional and everyday objects become portals to new ways of thinking. on the wall of the den, an oversized abstract painting slides silently to one side, revealing a plasma television screen. in the same room, handmade books by laliberte present thoughts and ideas in a way that puts today’s electronic tablets to shame. “people will come over and say, ‘it’s like being at the mini-getty,’” laliberte says with a laugh, referring to the getty museum in west los angeles with its travertine walls, minimalist design and abundant water features. inspired by the Schindler house in west hollywood — considered by some to be the first home built in the modern style — wellens’ and laliberte’s residence is

l-shaped, with laliberte’s studio in a separate rectangular building in back. a darkblue-tiled reflecting pool in the backyard visually connects the main house to the studio. at the far end of the pool, the studio’s floor-to-ceiling glass walls bookend an exterior wall of rectangular natural stone tiles. here, a Buddha statue is the centerpiece of a modern water fountain. “we integrated elements of feng Shui in the construction of the house,” explains designer ernesto Barron, who works for the architectural firm that designed the new west hollywood public library. “the idea of the reflecting pool was to use it as a mirror. at night when the fountain is backlit, the reflection on the water looks like fire, so there are multiple feng Shui elements represented.” eastern-inspired philosophy is an integral part of everyday life for laliberte and wellens, both former yoga instructors who were married at the long Beach art museum, and who have traveled to Bali together. “the [Balinese] people are

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wonderful, kind and loving,” marvels laliberte. “they would make offerings to good and evil spirits, because they don’t want to upset the evil gods by not giving them anything.” Barron took a cue from the couple’s lifestyle and turned a side yard into a small Zen garden, complete with gravel, Japanese maple trees, and a low wall with a circular niche in the center, where a statue of hindu god ganesh presides over the garden. “i wanted this to be a peaceful house,” notes Barron. “that was the purpose of the Zen garden. also, mike and carolyn practice yoga and meditate daily, so i created a meditation room.” the meditation room sits in the basement level of the two-story home and features a frosted glass pocket door for privacy when the space doubles as a guest bedroom. although wellens jokingly refers to the basement as the dungeon, Barron created floating steps to bring light into the lower level. he also turned the code-required fire escape in wellens’ basement-level office into a natural lightbox with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall. for an artist, natural light is as vital as oxygen, and laliberte revels in the copious light that floods the main residence and studio. plentiful skylights and clerestory windows throughout the home allow sunlight to filter in, from sunrise to sunset. “the way the light plays in this home

PeoPle will come inTo The home and say, ‘i don’T wanT To leave.’ whaT a greaT comPlimenT,” says laliberte. “i like people to come here with an open mind, and when they leave, i hope they can leave with a good memory. more than anything, i want them to be inspired.”

is amazing,” laliberte says. “i can sit here and just look at the light. you’ll notice things you didn’t before. it’s kind of like watching a movie.” true to the modernist style, Barron, who also designed the landscaping, created the home as a glass box, not only maximizing natural light, but also blurring the lines between indoors and the outside. Very few rooms in the house have shades, because Barron created a “green wall” of bamboo that surrounds the home, providing both privacy and, from the inside, a view of natural green foliage to accent the home’s black and white interior décor. the master bath has no blinds or shutters. instead, the Japanese maple in the Zen garden is visible through a large picture window, providing a natural green curtain. this luxuriant greenery complements the pale limestone color palette of the master bath, with its cream-colored walls, surfaces and flooring. in keeping with the home’s open, modernist design, a direct sight line leads straight from the den in the very front of the house to the corner window of the master bath at the back of the home. the sight line is interrupted only when the master bedroom’s oversized pocket door is pulled open, revealing an elaborate, open-carved indonesian portal mounted on clear glass. “i wanted to introduce elements of surprise,” Barron says of some of the home’s more striking features. case


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in point: the only feature in the house that is not black or white is a deep scarlet interior wall that spans from the basement to the second-floor ceiling. positioned near the 90-degree angle of the main home’s l-shape, the wall serves as a visual anchor and supports the floating staircase. “according to feng Shui, red signifies fire,” Barron notes, “and fire is a powerful element representing passion and energy.” the shock of color infuses the core of the home with warmth, an energy that prevents the house from feeling like a cavernous museum gallery. laliberte’s museum-quality creations are displayed throughout the home, tastefully arranged to spark interest — and surprise — around every corner. perhaps the most provocative installation is one that can literally be walked on. the stairway landing closest to the basement level is a transparent glass floor that gives one the sensation of floating above the basement. directly beneath the glass floor, a white clay sculpture of a stylized human form stands in a field of white stones. laliberte says her two dogs, who normally follow her everywhere, instinctively stop short of the clear glass landing. it appears some humans are equally apprehensive. “our house was featured on an artists’ home tour,” recalls laliberte. “it took people a while to get used to walking on a seethrough surface.” Barron intentionally designed the home to serve as a blank canvas that could showcase laliberte’s art, but he notes that during the design process, she expressed concern that a modern home would feel cold and hollow. “the house is contemporary,” Barron affirms, “but i added ancient elements — natural stone and wood — to tone down the modern and add character.” furnishings throughout the home incorporate natural elements in an artistic yet functional manner. an industrial, brushed-steel dining table is surrounded by an eclectic mix of fabric-covered chairs and a long wooden bench. in the living room, black leather Barcelona chairs, modeled after the futuristic pieces showcased at the 1929 Barcelona international exposition, stand out in an almost all-white space. and in the kitchen, three glass bulb lighting fixtures dangle like elegant teardrop earrings above a limestone chef’s island. unfinished concrete floors throughout the house complete the sense of being in an intimate art gallery, one that invites a visitor to explore and touch and linger, without the feeling of being under the watchful eye of a museum guard. a low, glass-topped blueprint cabinet, similar to taller cabinets that display rare books or small art objects in museums, serves as a coffee table in the den. Showcased inside are laliberte’s handmade books. unlike at a museum, these cabinet drawers are kept unlocked, and laliberte pulls open the top drawer to show a visitor the ‘grey matters’ book she created. an admission ticket is pulled from the grey front cover, which opens to a series of thick pages bearing stylized images and wordplay on the idea of creativity and the brain. the book’s last page is an accordion-like panel that pulls open to reveal three-dimensional theater seats and small figures on tiny trapezes, flying above the ‘theater of the mind.’ “people will come into the home and say, ‘i don’t want to leave.’ what a great compliment,” says laliberte. “i like people to come here with an open mind, and when they leave, i hope they can leave with a good memory. more than anything, i want them to be inspired.”

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