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From Holy to Homey

Slide Show >>

Friends laughed when husband and wife architects Anne Troutman and Aleks Istanbullu moved into their new loft in Santa Monica, Calif. "Of course you would have a loft," they teased Istanbullu, whose firm, Aleks Istanbullu Architects, has heavily involved itself in downtown Los Angeles' booming loft scene.

But the couple's house is not the trendy urban living space you'd imagine. In fact, it's a church -- built in 1875 by the United Methodist Congregation and, as the oldest building in this seaside town, a registered historic landmark.

FLEXIBILITY FACTOR. The couple had been hunting for a while when they stumbled upon the rundown building, which appealed because, as Troutman says, "Our old house had a fabulous ocean view and zero character." Perhaps more important, the church -- with 2,400 square feet and 15-foot ceilings -- could be renovated to meet their multiple needs -- a living space for the couple and their 13-year-old son and a studio/office for Design Smart, Troutman's residential architecture and consulting business.

So they purchased the property not because it was a loft or even because of its unique history, says Troutman. They bought the house because it was surprisingly flexible. It had to provide the privacy and intimacy of a family home, while having the openness and professionalism of a public office.

The challenge was how to break up the space. Locating the bedrooms in the two rear corners of the house was an obvious decision that gave the family privacy and close access to the tree-filled yard. "The hardest decision was where to put the kitchen," recalls Istanbullu. In any house, the location of the kitchen tends to define the social spaces.

MULTITASKING UNIT. The architects chose to make the kitchen the heart of the building, placing it squarely in the middle of the space. "Once we decided on that, everything else fell into place around it," he says.

More of an open galley than a distinct room, the kitchen is formed by a giant walled unit. It also provides the structure for two bathrooms, the library, the guest room, and Troutman's office. "It's a giant cabinet, a piece of furniture, and a sculpture," Istanbullu says of the unit, made of Douglas fir and maple.

A staircase built into the unit leads up to a loft occupied by a guest bed and Troutman's office. The unit also divides the church into the 20-by-50-foot private space in the back and a 40-by-40-foot chamber in the front that provides a light-filled open living room and entertaining space.

THE LIGHT SHIFT. The architects took pains to recreate, if not restore, some of the church's original details. The stairway banister's design, for instance, derived from a photograph of the building's interior in a newspaper article dated 1900. This and the other design decisions have created a house both old and new, intimate and social, private and public -- and constantly changing.

With four windows facing east, four facing west, and three facing south, the house receives light from the shifting sun throughout the day. "And when the sun shines through the stained-glass windows," says Troutman, "it creates a rainbow."

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