Project Spotlight

This Hillside Home Is Quintessential California Modernism

The matchbox concept of rotated rectangle structures finds harmony with its location in the Pasadena hills.

The List’s Project Spotlight column features unparalleled projects created by our forward-thinking List members. By going straight to the source—and having the designers demystify the methods behind their designs—we hope to enlighten and inspire our creative audience to further push the boundaries of what is possible in the realm of design.

Since its inception in 2004, Montalba Architects has made its imprint on L.A.’s sprawling landscape. From marquee commercial projects such as Nobu Ryokan, The Row, and the Headspace headquarters, to residential projects in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and beyond, the firm has imbued the city with its distinct take on California Modernism.

The firm’s skillful ability to connect spaces with their surroundings is a hallmark of its eclectic portfolio—and the LR2 House is no different. Situated in the Pasadena hills, the fluid structure blends into the wooded terrain with a series of indoor/outdoor rooms, courtyards, breezeways, and an expansive rooftop deck that overlooks the adjacent slopes and the sprawling Pasadena valley.

Montalba Architects is a member of The List, the destination for all things Surface-approved. Want to join The List? Contact our team to find out how to apply.

Project AcquisitionThe LR2 House overlooks Pasadena and its mountains from a hillside perch. This new 4,200-square-foot dwelling features several distinct living volumes and programs.

InspirationIn response to the client’s desire to retain a significant portion of the existing flat pad between adjacent slopes, the house follows the matchbox concept with stacked volumes that create a rotated series of rectangular masses abutting the hillside, each with its own take on indoor/outdoor space. The steep, hillside landscape sets the backdrop, and the architectural volumes ultimately guide one’s experience of the home through the passage in and around the space. The covered bridgeway and breezeways, terraces, outdoor rooms, and the folding in and out of the architecture as one moves through the house is the main concept of this home.

ChallengesThe most challenging aspect was designing around the steep, hillside terrain to retain a significant portion of the existing flat pad between adjacent slopes, while also offering a complex yet simple residence with varying volumes and programs.

UniquenessPockets of glass bring lightness to the structure, which is cantilevered to create a sense of levitation. Also, the intentional material contrast expresses an intensity and positions the building in stark contrast to its site and landscape. In this home, we chose materials based on how their particular properties would interact with the steep hillside. The dark, hard, and almost black concrete panel exterior, which contrasts the plywood interior’s warm golden glow, fold the hillside’s natural brush landscape into the interior.

ImpactAt the core of our work is a relationship between a quiet simplicity driven by a desire to be conceptual, spiritual, and pragmatic, while creating spaces people want to live in. That is much easier said than done, particularly with the limitations on today’s building process and the unique practical needs of our clients. This project’s origin was always driven by a practical approach to navigating the hillside. The house, in simple terms, is a series of indoor and outdoor spaces organized on the site and connected by a series of staircases. Its structure and building are very complex, yet the experience feels simple and peaceful. We hope people see both complexity and simplicity in the design, and admire the home’s synergetic relationship to the hillside.


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