Breathing Rooms

  • The master bedroom of the Venice, California, family home is swathed by a living wall on three sides and topped with a green roof.

    The master bedroom of the Venice, California, family home is swathed by a living wall on three sides and topped with a green roof.  | Photo by Kenji Arai

  • The flexible "terrazzo terrarium" space opens to the courtyard

    The flexible "terrazzo terrarium" space opens to the courtyard.  | Photo by Kenji Arai

  • A steel balcony's Turkish tulip pattern

    The sculptural staircase draws in breezes. | Photo by Kenji Arai

  • The sculptural staircase draws in breezes

    A steel balcony's Turkish tulip pattern.  | Photo by Kenji Arai

Wisps of greenery have been creeping inside Paul and Cicek Bricault's bedroom through tiny cracks in a skylight. "We planned to rip them out," Cicek says. "But we heard they'll invade anyway." 

The couple have been expecting the encroaching tendrils. After all, the exterior of their master bedroom is wrapped with a living wall of succulents on three sides, and an edible garden grows on the roof. Paul's brother, Canadian architect Marc Bricault, designed the house "to be connected to the environment outside instead of cut off from it," Paul explains, and to have the feeling of a "continuous garden."

The Venice, California, house that Paul and Cicek bought nearly 15 years ago was a tiny 1911 bungalow with 1,000 square feet of modern additions. When they needed more space for their two young kids, the couple gave Marc free reign--as long as the design was as green as possible. Paul pushed for the rooftop garden, and Cicek for enough solar panels to cover the electric bill.

Marc dreamed up the living wall and the "terrazzo terrarium," a wide, glass-encased space that opens onto a courtyard of grasses and trees, which are irrigated with recycled graywater or rainwater. The terrazzo has been the site of formal dinners, birthday parties with 30 wild kids, weekly meditation circles, and many a talent show. Destin, 8, and Melise, 10, like to do their homework there at a low wooden table facing the courtyard. 

The versatility of the room extends to the entire house, letting the family embrace a small-living mentality and treat the home, as Cicek says, as "a canvas to play with." On the roof--reached by a three-level spiral staircase that sucks heat up and circulates cool air below--Paul planted flowers that would bloom in different colors at different times of the year. He used to cram the garden with vegetable crops but now grows fruits like berries, pomegranates, limes, and oranges, along with herbs.

More than just the garden, Paul sees the whole house as a "living organism that's been breathing and evolving." So when plants get unruly on the roof, he decides to just let them grow--even if it means tendrils creeping into the bedroom.

  • WHAT I LIKE
    "The house has a living, breathing quality to it," Cicek Bricault says. "It's taken on a persona."
  • LESSONS LEARNED
    "We didn't understand the complexity of living walls," Cicek says. "You need to research the newest technology. It's like buying a computer--they get outdated, so look for the newest."
  • comments
    Slideshow

    Also In This Issue