Zoltan Pali and Judit M. Fekete at their office in Culver City

Zoltan Pali, Founder and Design Principal at SPF: architects, a Los Angeles based architectural firm, recently designed the architectural sanctuary at 1704 Stone Canyon Road in Bel Air. The home was featured in Architectural Digest and has won numerous awards, including “Home of the Year” when it was first completed in the early 2000s.

Zoltan Pali generously lent his time for a Q&A with The Agency’s Paul Lester.

You’ve stated that you designed 1704 Stone Canyon with the prime objective of simplicity and open space. Do you find it more difficult in design to achieve the simple than the complex?

Difficult is the wrong term.  I think it takes a lot of hard work and perhaps more time, but I do not think it is more difficult- it just takes more time to realize.  I often find myself circling in a fog of complexity like a hawk looking for its prey- but then all of a sudden the ‘simple’ jumps out at me- and I swoop down out of the turmoil of complexity to capture it.  And, when that happens- it all seems so easy.  You just have to keep your eyes open and look.001

The stunning glassed-in skybridge is a defining feature of the home. Tell us how that element came to be?

In designing the house we talked about privacy and separation, and connection and family- the bridge does both.  We also talked about the notion that experiencing the views is not about sitting in a room and looking out at the view but it is about when you circulate through the house that you experience seeing- it was about this experiential aspect of connection, separation and movement.

You’ve called LA “the city of optimism.” Why do you consider it optimistic and what do you think drives this?

Los Angeles is this place that continually keeps re-inventing itself- just like the people that come here from afar.  If you go anywhere else and you ask people where they want to go – what place they would like to experience- Los Angeles is pretty much on top of that list.  When you get here, it does not matter where you came from- where you went to school-  it matters only what you can do, and that attitude is purely optimistic. I love it.  On the other hand, Los Angeles does have a very speculative nature about it [which is generally optimistic], but can create a scene that is not quite so beautiful architecturally.  This speculative nature tends to permeate even cultural projects and that can be a bit disturbing.

What is it about LA that truly stands out to you when it comes to architecture and design?

Finding good architecture in LA is sort of like an Easter egg hunt- you look and you look- and it takes a while to find those wonderful tidbits, but they are there.  What stands out to me is a sort of open canvas.  If you think of cities like New York, Paris, San Francisco, Chicago, Tokyo, Rome,  you immediately have an architectural image.  I do not find that true about Los Angeles.  In fact, it can be a bit unnerving and you can drive around and just experience a sort of nondescript-ness, mile after mile.  So, what stands out- is the opportunity- we have a tremendous chance and responsibility to turn this place into architectural richness.

Favorite part of LA to visit for inspiration?

That is like asking me what my favorite color is – or my favorite song- or my favorite flavor- it all depends upon my mood and therefore there is no favorite place per se, but I do love to drive out of the city and drive back into it from a vantage point where I can see it all, and then I say to myself, “this my home, this is where I belong, I’m gonna stick it out to the end!”  When I was a real youngster, I often thought- where should I go? Where should I start my life?  I considered many places- the usual suspects- and at one point it dawned on me that if I happened to be living somewhere else what would the one place be where I would want to go? 007It was clear that it would be Los Angeles. So, I consider myself lucky to have had parents that escaped horrible places and settled here, started a life here, had me here.  I’m staying!

Your design work covers both residential and commercial projects. How different is your approach to each and what do you enjoy working on the most?

Each project requires a unique approach, but the one thing that I find similar is that I find myself falling in love with the project, the client and the issues at hand, and it is my job to nurture all that and search for the right answer and the right solution.  Sometimes my clients don’t think that I have fallen in love with them, but I have! I sometimes have a funny way of expressing it!  Project size and type matters not.

Check out more pictures of 1704 Stone Canyon Road here.