Behind-the-Scenes: Site Visit to a Ground-Up Residence

Concrete stone-clad site walls in progress, overlooked by one of the property’s two historic oak trees.

Construction site visits allow our team the opportunity to comprehend the full scope of our projects – from hand sketch to reality. We recently made a trip to one of our ground-up residences, a rambling hillside home. For this project, we first explored an extensive renovation/addition to the existing 1930s home. However, by the end of the Schematic Design phase, our clients decided that a new home would better suit their needs.

Sr. Project Manager Korey Kromm drew inspiration from the Will Rogers Estate in the Pacific Palisades – a favorite of the client, Tim and interior designer, Kristen Panitch. Korey’s extensive experience working as a licensed architect in the U.K., where he managed a range of historic residential projects, was invaluable throughout the design process to achieve a key goal: to make a new home feel as though it has always been a part of the site. This intangible “sense of place” is imperative to all of our projects. At TBA, our team virtually creates this setting through a range of formats, from hand-drawn sketching to utilizing a 3-D software called Revit, which allows us to see the site, home and interiors come together digitally in real time.

This particular site lies within a wooded canyon, which was a delight for landscape designer Laurie Lewis, a frequent collaborator. We oriented the home to engage with all sides of the property, curating views while allowing for privacy and ample outdoor space. Making the most of existing grade changes offered an opportunity to create entrances and play spaces at different levels. “Ultimately, this really inspired the idiosyncratic nature of the home’s design,” notes Korey.

Alongside Laurie, we envisioned a terraced yard embracing two historic coastal oak trees on the property. To create this effect, new stone-clad terrace walls are in progress by the builder, Valle Reinis. Native plants punctuate the design, with a row of vibrant orange trees flanking one side. Underground, the site will be outfitted with a water reclamation system to utilize wastewater for irrigation.

Heading inside, the Foyer offers a glimpse into the home’s sun-washed, casual style. Finding the balance between old and new, Kristen and Korey – now working on their fifth TBA project together – imbued intricate details throughout the home, including a wealth of reclaimed materials. “Kristen’s design brings an informal but elegant feel. She’s incredible at finding reclaimed décor, from antique lighting to furniture and rugs, to really make it feel lived in; even when it hasn’t been.” Upstairs, a sunlit second-floor hallway also serves as a gallery and provides a relaxing viewpoint to admire the massive oak trees.

Korey’s favorite element of the entire home are the oversized windows – which feature weight and chain double-hung windows. “…It’s historically how windows used to be manufactured. We chose to utilize weight and chain windows because of the proposed window size in specific rooms; you can open them with a pinky using the weight system,” he says. Korey was inspired by one of his favorite buildings in Los Angeles: a retail space on Melrose Place, which now houses Isabel Marant.

An early sketch of the Foyer, featuring reclaimed wood beams and the original door from the home previously on the property (left). Construction of the Foyer in progress (right).
This tray ceiling softens the second-floor stair hallway.
A sketch of an early plan for the Living Room, which features oversized windows.
A preliminary rendering of the oversized windows.
The fireplace under construction, with one of the oversized windows on the right.

Back outside, the exterior stone-clad fireplace is coming to life. In the century since the Will Rogers homestead was built, earthquake codes have required creative new solutions – especially for chimneys. To convey the scale of this design element to our clients, we created both hand-drawn sketch and 3-D Revit renderings.

A birds-eye view of the house reveals the slate roof being installed. Korey and Tim chose slate for durability and to reflect the rustic landscape, However, some design decisions bring challenges: dark slate roofs are difficult to pass through permitting due to Title 24 regulations, as dark surfaces retain and emit heat. Korey was able to gain approval on this slate since it is a lighter color (and therefore reflects solar energy to help keep the roof, home and atmosphere cooler). Yet the exterior house walls will remain dark: “We want the building to feel unimposing. We chose to keep it simple on the outside, with an elegant reveal when you walk in. Almost like a jewel box,” says Korey.

Our custom homes are made of many individual materials and details. So is our process in designing it – including TBA team members and our many valued collaborators.

Design Associate Mengying Bai has worked closely with Korey throughout the Construction Documents phase – drawing the complex structure in Revit, a 3D software, completing final documents for permitting/building and carefully detailing every inch. Mengying, who is LEED accredited and also holds master’s degrees in Architecture and Construction Management, says her favorite part of the process has been seeing the home become reality. “I love going to site and seeing even just the framing, because I learn so much from it. In school, we had a lot of design projects; but being here and seeing our work become real is the most fascinating part.”