Sweet Renovation

by Jennifer Capo
Published September 17, 2009

Tucked in among the neatly packed postwar homes along 190th Street in Redondo Beach is designer Robert Sweet’s straightforward yet starkly inventive transformation, the p_House.
As you walk through the front door and put the world behind, you land in the middle of a modest Southern California dream. If you walk a few steps further, you arrive on the back deck with the curious thought, “Am I outside or am I inside?” If you turn around to look for the windows or doors as an afterthought, you won’t find any.

“The whole wall just disappears and the deck extends the living room out,” Sweet said in a recent interview. “You really blur that boundary between indoors and out.”

Sweet, 32, received his architecture degree from the University of Kansas and formed his own design studio, ras-a inc, in 2007. He has already four completed projects, three projects in the works, and ten projects with Dean Nota. In 2008, he designed the p_House (pool house) as his own live/work residence.

The project was technically a remodel. Sweet chose to keep intact the original 920 square ft. footprint and grew the design vertically to 1,420 square ft. by adding a second story master suite. He shifted the focus of the house towards the backyard, creating outdoor living space and fully taking advantage of the open-doors-year-round Southern California climate.

Passive solar design keeps this modest home affordable to maintain, and extends to the outside: a partial second story provides shade for the back yard, while the home’s single story side allows the pool to get late-afternoon sun. A high-efficiency wood-burning stove and strategically placed windows and ceiling fans mean reduced heating loads in the winter and no need for air conditioning during summer. Custom 14-foot sliding glass doors pocket into the wall spilling the living room outdoors.

Any home design has a unique set of site-specific problems to solve. The p_house sits off a busy street, creating a need for privacy and noise reduction without losing airflow and light. To resolve the issue, Sweet closed off the front wall and installed a strip of clerestory windows for ventilation. Floating stairs with open treads push warm air up through the stairwell to escape out the master suite’s expansive operable windows. A four foot skylight in the kitchen and above the stairwell filters in natural light from above and opens up the room.

Sweet’s environmentally responsible solutions are inherent in his design approach. He doesn’t attempt to call attention to this aspect of his work, but instead suggests that this is the natural direction architecture is evolving towards. Sweet emphasizes sustainability by recycling the original home’s foundations and external framing where possible.

“I don’t like to get too exotic with my materials,” he said. “I like them to be easily accessible, attainable. They’re not coming from a different continent or country, so that alone is a very eco-friendly aspect.”

Local materials include fiber cement siding rather than less durable wood siding, FSC certified cedar, and stucco. Sweet stresses the easy availability of such materials.

“Its nothing too special,” Sweet said. “But maybe I detail it in a special way or use it in a manner that is wasn’t intended to be used.”

The p_House reflects the airy light-filled quality that Sweet works to maintain in each project. B