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Master of Craftsman

A Southern California firm specializes in the restoration and preservation of the region's architectural heritage.
By Dan Cooper

Kelly Sutherlin McLeod's fascination with the Gamble House began early in her career. As the first female recipient of the Gamble House Scholar-in-Residence program in the early 1980s, she had the privilege of residing in perhaps the most iconic of Charles and Henry Greene's works during her senior year as an architectural student at the University of Southern California. Two decades later, McLeod, who founded Kelly Sutherlin McLeod Architecture (KSMA) in 1988, received national attention for the conservation of the 1908 structure. Today, the National Historic Landmark is the only Greene and Greene building still substantially in its original condition, and the only one of their homes regularly open to the public.

"As project architect for the conservation effort, I worked closely with a collaborative team committed to maintaining historic materials and authenticity of the Greenes' original design," says McLeod. "From the rolled-eave roof and sleeping porches to the exterior shakes, beams and rafter tails, and the wood trim windows and screens, original materials have been carefully restored. Rather than return the home's exterior to its original appearance, and lose authenticity, necessary repairs were implemented without taking on the appearance of new construction. Great effort was made to ensure that once again, the Gamble House resonates with the original design vision of the architects.

"This unique experience continues to have a profound influence on my professional focus and approach to practicing architecture."

KSMA is based in a Long Beach neighborhood that appears to contain every possible variation of early to mid-20th-century architecture, arrayed as if it were a three-dimensional textbook. "This neighborhood is referred to as the Virginia Country Club," says McLeod. "It reflects a palette of architectural styles truly indicative of the first half of the 20th century in southern California, from Craftsman to Period Revival through Moderne." On one corner sits a Greene and Greene house undergoing a full-scale exterior restoration. Just down the way is a tile-roofed Spanish Colonial with a large parabolic stucco window arch, a period feature rarely seen outside of Barcelona. Further along the street, Georgian Revivals with two-story columned facades await, but unlike their northern cousins, the massings of these homes are low and wide, seeking to cool their occupants instead of conserving precious heat.

McLeod's success with the Gamble House has led to additional commissions involving other Greene and Greene works, including the Reeve-Townsend House in Long Beach, where McLeod is working with Ted Wells of Guardian Stewardship on restoring the interior and exterior. The house was originally designed by the Greenes in 1903 and then relocated and expanded in 1927. The restoration of the house, which has been referred to by Wells as "the most complete Arts and Crafts style house designed by the Greenes," presents interesting academic challenges in determining "significance" between the two eras of work executed by the brothers.

Another Greene and Greene project on which McLeod has worked is the Tichenor House, designed in 1904. "We conducted extensive research and documented existing conditions prior the proposed relocation of this historic landmark building," she says. "Our proposal featured development of a master plan for the new site. The proposed landscaping plan included the recreation of the Greenes' original Japanese-style garden to complement and tie into the Earl Miller Japanese Garden at California State University, Long Beach."

Historical Significance
As word spread of her aptitude with Craftsman architecture, McLeod was hired to restore and enhance two high profile Arts and Crafts homes in Long Beach. The Dechter residence is a stunning example of not only reversing decades of neglect and stylistically incorrect modifications, but also sensitively expanding the house in the true spirit of the original architect. "Over a period of about 60 years, this 1913 Craftsman Style home had been badly altered," says McLeod. "We had the privilege of realizing the owner's vision – returning the home to its true architectural heritage. Careful restoration and reconstruction included revealing the original structure, preserving the two original remaining rooms of the house and using original Arts and Crafts vocabulary to design the rest of the home. We used custom-designed and handcrafted woodwork through the home, restored the central staircase and open gallery on the second floor and reproduced hardware to match the original examples." As a result, the house once again contributes to the historic district in which it is located. In 2005, it was recognized by the Long Beach Heritage Coalition with a Preservation Award.

A short walk away, McLeod reconstructed the missing original second-floor balcony of another residence with an interpretive rail design, taking advantage of unobstructed ocean views. While the majority of existing window openings were maintained, a single front entrance was added, returning the existing structure, which had been subdivided into a duplex during its early history, to a single-family residence. The front door leaded art-glass was executed by artist Ted Ellison.

Gaining national prominence for restoring an Arts and Crafts icon is a double-edged sword; renowned as the "go-to" architect for Greene and Greene and other Craftsman structures in need of thoughtful and sensitive restoration, McLeod is careful about not being pigeonholed as solely working within the style. Maintaining this same scholarly approach beyond the first decade of the 20th century, she has built a body of work in other historic southern Californian styles that range from the early 1890s through the Modernist era, each displaying the same attention to historic conservation and its inherent nuances. In Sierra Madre, CA, McLeod restored and renovated a 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival home, maintaining nearly all of its original architectural elements, with the exception of an inappropriate addition and an inadequate kitchen. By removing the enclosed, glassed-in modern addition, she revealed an original Spanish Revival-style balcony, complete with authentic wood corbels.

Like architects of decades and centuries past, McLeod often plays a role in furnishing the structures she designs. To that end, she has designed a line of Arts and Crafts lighting and furniture. "With most residential projects there is a need for beautiful, period-appropriate furnishings and fixtures, preferably custom designed and handcrafted by artisans," says McLeod. "Jill and Jim West of Circa 1910 Antiques and I partnered and founded MW&M Lighting. For decades, I have had the privilege of collaborating with talented artisans and implementing custom designs for furnishings and fixtures to complement period architecture and the lifestyle needs of our clients."

Design Integrity
In Piedmont, CA, McLeod was faced with the challenge of re-imagining one of the more mundane forms of architecture, the ranch. Comprised of over 4,000 sq.ft. of dark, rambling, elongated spaces, and lacking any architectural interest, the dwelling was constructed with mere eight-ft.- high ceilings in a U-shaped single-story plan around a central garden. McLeod specified that raised clerestory lanterns be installed to capture natural light, allowing it to dance throughout the house while expanded openings capitalized on vistas of the central courtyard garden from every room.

Working again in Long Beach, this time in a 1941 Monterey Style home that was designed by the noted architect Roland E. Coate, Sr., McLeod took a sparse, neglected house and updated it while respecting the original architect's intent. "This project held fast to honoring the original details, scale and traditional style of the house while revitalizing architectural integrity for the contemporary lifestyle of the residents," says McLeod. "The serene atmosphere is achieved by harmonious composition of building, interior and landscape design, and the house has a seamless flow between existing and new construction, carrying on the timeless design integrity initiated by Coate nearly 70 years ago."

McLeod has researched Coate thoroughly. "He was known for contemporary Mediterranean Revival residential architecture and low-pitched hipped roofs capping simply articulated forms, along with large glazed areas and ribbon windows," she says. "This stems from his investigation of Modernism and his continued interpretation of traditional style through the use of simple materials and details, which has come to be known as Monterey Style.

"He used simple materials, horizontal wood siding, exterior plaster and simple rooflines, but he considered the Long Beach house modern architecture, with its emphasis on light, air, and views. Those ribbon windows that wrapped corners and undulating walls along the back side of the house were indeed modern by 1941 standards."

McLeod spent many hours designing the attendant grounds as well. "Exterior patios were maintained and expanded with new hardscape, maximizing the flow between interior and exterior spaces, which are ideal for entertaining large gatherings," she says. "There are gardens for meditation, play and entertaining, and I placed water features and sculpture throughout them." The owner's art collection includes installations both inside and out, featuring artist Mineo Mizuno's ceramic water-drop sculpture in a bay window, complemented by his water-drop-shaped organic landscape forms.

One of the larger projects that McLeod has undertaken is the master plan for the 1920s Harold Lloyd Greenacres Estate in Beverly Hills. Work by KSMA included extensive research, onsite documentation and analysis of the current conditions of the historic structures on this legendary estate, which was completed in compliance with the State Historic Building Code and the Secretary of the Interior's Preservation Standards.

McLeod prides herself on creative design concepts that not only address the special needs of historic preservation, revitalization and renovation, but also encompass new construction and adaptive reuse projects. "I'm committed to architectural integrity," she says, "and I embrace the challenge of seeking harmony between the old and the new, and meeting the needs of my clients with creative and innovative design solutions.

"Working on historically significant structures is a delicate balancing act between conservation of the original fabric, modern construction practices and the client's needs and budget. Historic landmarks have to remain vital; if not, they won't be saved. There is still a great need to educate the public and build appreciation for these irreplaceable treasures."  

 

 

 
 

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