BEACH HOMES – Sweet work
A drive-by viewing leads to remodeling a masterpiece
by Kelly Dawson
When Robert Sweet decided to leave the familiarity he grew up with in the Midwest for unknown possibilities in California, he did so with an architecture degree and a plan.
“I moved to Hermosa Beach and lived on my sister’s couch for a little bit. I figured that this is where I want to be,” he said.
The year was 2000. A brief internship in Beverly Hills led him to a job with Dean Nota, a Hermosa Beach architect he had read about in school. Sweet enjoyed working with the residential clients of Nota’s boutique firm and it was great that he was able to ride his bike to work. But after he bought a post-war house on 190th Street in Redondo Beach to renovate into a home and office, he decided to move out on his own.
“That’s really the only way to branch out, or create your own clientele in this industry. You have to have something built,” Sweet said. “I thought, ‘I have to make this happen for myself.’”
By 2009, Sweet had established his design-build studio ras-a, inc., from his renovated property, turned sleek calling card. This work and living space, known as the “P-House,” is a realization of the plan he undertook more than a decade ago. Its two-story design of minimalist proportions and structured materials has a modern look that still feels subdued in a neighborhood where such homes are far from the norm.
“You can’t design like you’re on an island,” Sweet said. “You have to take your surroundings into account.”
In the 20-plus properties that he has designed in the Los Angeles area, Sweet pairs the needs of his clients with the bigger picture: the movement of the sun, the angle of the wind, the direction of the building, and the feel of the neighborhood.
Last month, two of Sweet’s homes were featured on the Dwell on Design Tour, a self-led exploration that brought the annual Dwell on Design convention to the South Bay for the first time. Sweet shared the day with Nota, who displayed three homes.
Sweet’s two homes, both remodels, were the Henbest home in Rancho Palos Verdes and the Grandview home in Manhattan Beach.
Reverence for the past
The Henbest house capitalizes on a floor plan that balances indoor and outdoor living. It was originally designed in 1966 by renowned mid century architect Pierre Koenig.
Sweet’s remodel reflects his reverence for Koenig
“It was a real honor to work on it, period. Just to be tied into that lineage,” Sweet said. “There comes a lot of responsibility with it, too. You have to give respect to the integrity of the home and its roots. At the same time, you have current zoning requirements and building code standards that you need to meet in order to bring the house into the 21st century.”
Aside from a few knocked-down walls and necessary plumbing and electrical upgrades, the Henbest house looks as if it was completed a half-century ago. Sweet and homeowners Stephen and Elizabeth Birkett even obtained Koenig’s plans from the Getty. The plans showed a swimming pool in the front courtyard that was never. They built one. Seventy percent of the facade is glass, which wraps under a fan-like roof to fill the sprawling home with light.
“I know that Robert did an amazing renovation to a very famous architect’s home, which is not easy to do,” Stephen Birkett said. “Everything was done to perfection, almost as if Pierre Koenig did the renovation himself. That was our goal.”
Before Birkett met Sweet, he had driven past his 190th Street property several times on his way to work. When he noticed the name of Sweet’s studio during one drive by, he looked him up and then took a tour of the P-House. He thought that Sweet shared his tastes, and felt that he would eventually help create his ideal home. Birkett said that they both got the project of their dreams. And when more than 400 people showed up to see the home during the tour, they were stunned by the positive reaction.
“I was supposed to start the day at the Henbest house in the morning. Steve wanted me there,” Sweet said. “I started driving up, and there was a line of traffic. I thought, ‘What is going on?’ They were all going to the house. I got there, and it just seemed like it was a party. I was blown away.”
Grandview was once a Spanish Colonial home with a “poor execution” of style but a strong use of scale. Sweet liked the way the home looked from the street – the sense that it seemed small from the outside, just like houses nearby – and he used that as a basis for his design. The residence now expands from a modest, square entrance into 2,600-square-feet, with living, dining, and kitchen spaces that share clean lines and views of the outside.
“It’s nice to see this kind of architecture in the South Bay,” said John Zisk, a tour participant at the Grandview home.
“An architect gives a home character, and that’s what Sweet does,” Zisk said.