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Lines and Squares

An architect and a designer pare a 1930s International-style house down to its essentials—and give it back its edge

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The gut rehab of this house left no trace of its original interior layout. The front entrance leads visitors to an open-plan multipurpose room that’s an exercise in pure, clean geometry
The gut rehab of this house left no trace of its original interior layout. The front entrance leads visitors to an open-plan multipurpose room that’s an exercise in pure, clean geometry. See more photos in our gallery below.
 

Architect Ken Circo and homeowner Eric Deutsch faced a problem: How do you take out the middle of a structure without having it fall down around your ears?

“In the very first meeting, Eric said, ‘I want to open everything up.’ And he wasn’t kidding,” Circo recalls. Deutsch’s dream was to emulate his idol, architectural great Richard Meier, and give the tired 1930s Riverside house he’d purchased a pristine minimalist makeover, stretching the term “wide-open” to the point where every last corner of the first floor would be visible from the front door.

Walls? Gonzo.

Central fireplace? History.

Stairs? Barely there.

“I would have made the stair treads glass, but then my mother would have been afraid to go upstairs,” Deutsch says.

Backyard and rear of the house
Behind the Scenes: Making the Most of Minimalism »

Ah, families, always getting in the way of great design. Actually, Deutsch, a 35-year-old Harrington College of Design grad who runs his own busy firm, Neutral Interiors, is pretty practiced at accommodating the intrusions of family life. When he and his wife, Nicole, had a daughter two years ago (Deutsch also has a 15-year-old son), one of the first things he did was create Plexiglas gates (see-through, of course) for the stairs.

“I think it takes a special person to live in a very open modern house like this, to live without clutter,” Circo says. “That takes a lot of work.”

The biggest challenge was finding a way to work a load-bearing column into the design (so the house would stay standing) without offending Deutsch’s artistic sensibilities. Once the pair agreed on an inconspicuous spot behind the oven, it was smooth sailing.

The previous owner, though, had not changed so much as the original carpet in 41 years, and Deutsch describes the condition of the house as “dire.” “It was hideous,” affirms Circo, who also lives in Riverside.

“Plus it was brick, and I’m not a big brick fan,” Deutsch says. But while living in a house across the street, he couldn’t help but see that the property had possibilities. “One day it came up for sale, and I just walked across the street and bought it. Nicole was pretty mad.”

She’s over it. Even from the curb, it’s obvious the house is now a modernist gem. With its brick exterior sheathed in sophisticated cedar and stucco, the crisply rectilinear, flat-roofed structure gives this corner of the venerable Frederick Law Olmsted–designed suburb a big dose of the 21st century. “Everyone in town calls it ‘the modern house,’” Deutsch says.

He even found the perfect spot for Nicole’s cherished Le Corbusier armchairs. “She made me promise she’d be able to see them from everywhere,” he recalls.

In this house? No problem.

 

Photography: Andreas Larsson
Styling: Kami Bremyer

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