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Originally published Friday, July 20, 2012 at 8:02 PM

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Less home closer to nature is more

Covered porches in front and in back play out as a sort of Modernist take on the hacienda.

Los Angeles Times

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LOS ANGELES — After living in what they had thought was their dream house — six bedrooms, five bathrooms, 3,900 square feet in Ojai, Calif., complete with orange orchard and pool — Wanda Weller Sakai and Kurtis Sakai found themselves wanting something different. Something less.

"We realized we'd rather downsize to something smaller and more humble and use whatever money we had left over to make something nice for ourselves," Kurtis said.

"One of the wake-up calls was seeing how much time and money I had to spend on water, property taxes, utilities and landscaping," he said, adding that the monthly water bill in summer was $700. "I started to think that, for the long haul, it didn't make sense to be in a house that big."

So they sold the house in Southern California and bought a 1,700-square-foot, 1971 ranch-house fixer nearby at the foot of Los Padres National Forest.

Working with architect Darwin McCredie, the couple created what McCredie calls "a transparent house" by adding 6-foot-wide glass sliders to every room. McCredie also added a master suite and office and rearranged rooms inside the home's original footprint.

The gabled roof of the garage was altered into a streamlined box, the bookend to the new office for Kurtis Sakai at the other end of the house.

Covered porches in front and in back, added to combat the Ojai sun, play out as a sort of Modernist take on the hacienda.

"That is what connects all the rooms in the house and creates outdoor rooms," McCredie said. "If you have a boring house, or even an ugly house, then the porch and the columns become the architecture."

A new retaining wall in the front yard "gives the house a strong base," McCredie said, and provides more flat, functional land. Sakai installed drought-tolerant plants that he said take just about 30 minutes a week to maintain.

Inside, the home's warm Modernism is courtesy of Wanda Weller Sakai, formerly director of design for Patagonia, now a fashion instructor at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles and owner of the Modern Folk Living boutique in Ojai.

She has a knack for softening the modern architecture with handcrafted décor: colorful vintage kilim rugs and pillows, contemporary artwork and ceramics that span decades.

"The artwork and the ceramics all have connections," she said. "We have stories with all of our things."

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