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Art Lives Here

In a nod to native cultures around the world, the Oak View home of artist Leslie Thompson breaks the straight line.

By Maxine Hurt

Colorful tiles adorn a stairway that follows the home’s curve and leads to the owners’ creative spaces: for her, a potter’s workshop; for him, a woodworking room. Photos by Michael Robinson Chavez.

 

hree white cylinders with brown turret-like peaks stand together just off Highway 33 in Oak View. It’s a curious house—an eye-catching aberration that artist Leslie Thompson and her husband, Simon Chatwin, a computer programmer at Amgen, call home.

Some say the house mirrors the designs of Leslie’s art: elegant porcelain vessels featuring black and white geometric designs. Leslie likens it to hogans, the primary traditional domicile of the Navajo people of the Southwest, and kivas, underground, womb-like dwellings used by Pueblo peoples for religious ceremonies. Simon, who has spent a lot of time in Africa, likens the “cone on cylinder” shape to traditional rondavel huts.

Completed in 2003 by Ventura-based architect Roy Colbert, the house—which uses a pattern of self-bracing triangles to maximize structural advantage—is 2,900 square feet and includes two bedrooms, two and a half baths, an office, a pottery carving studio, a woodworking studio, and Leslie’s primary artist studio. While geodesic domes are known to use less material and be lighter and stronger than any other type of building, they’re not for everyone. “[Colbert] knew all the stuff that was wrong with them, like dividing up the space and not having any vertical wall space for pictures,” says Thompson. “They’re hard to heat and there is not much privacy.”

No room is exempt from the artistic touch.

We begin our tour in the heart of the home, the center cylinder. The room has a peaked ceiling held up by vigas, Southwestern pine logs, with bamboo matting beneath them. The work of other local artists furnishes the room: stylish chairs by Keith Buchan, a fellow Ojai Studio Artist, and stained glass doors by Ventura glass artist Bob Eyberg. Custom-made tiles from RTK Studios in Ojai featuring an Amish quilt design in dark brown and tan adorn the walls. The hallway in the center cylinder is lined with books, pottery, figurines, woven materials, and other pieces of handmade art. Across the hallway, more work from local artists lines the wall. The peculiar, dream-like characters of Ojai painter Christine Brennan peer down upon visitors with bulging eyes. A red Chinese paper dragon floats above my head. Further down the hallway, mounted to the wall, is an intricately decorated Japanese taiko drum. Leslie takes the drum off of the wall.

In the master bedroom, a Moroccan glass lantern hangs from a peaked ceiling held up by vigas.

“I had a native American friend visiting whose child immediately found the drum and was beating on it. I think it’s the only time someone used it,” Thompson says with a chuckle. “I thought it was great.”

The home’s cylindrical exterior guides the flowing interior lines.

We walk into the master bedroom, which is full of objects that offer a cross pollination of culture, ancestry, and friendship. There’s a Moroccan glass lantern hanging from the ceiling. A collection of wooden Geisha combs is neatly arranged on a bookshelf, and paintings by Leslie’s father line the curve of the wall. But the focal point is a wooden jewelry chest by the door. Ed Wohl, a wood worker Thompson met the first time she did the American Craft Show in Baltimore, made the cherry wood chest, whose drawers gracefully slide open to reveal its owner’s eclectic jewelry collection.

Downstairs houses the creative space for both Leslie and Simon. Simon has a woodworking room with a large golden “S” on the door (a gift from Leslie), and Leslie’s workroom is right across the way. There’s no clay on the walls or dust covering the surfaces. There isn’t a pile of cracked pots that didn’t survive the kiln. Like her work, Thompson’s space is precise. “I’ve been called obsessive compulsive, but I feel like I’ve made it work for me,” she says. As expected, there’s a potters wheel in the corner, and her kiln is just outside the studio door.

Thompson’s pottery, with its smooth curves and geometric patterns, is reminiscent of the home itself.

We end the tour outside, next to one of Simon’s many contributions: a rock stream that follows the curve of the house down to a koi pond. Water lilies float on the surface and verdant clusters of hyacinths bob to the steady flow. The fish are swimming deep to stay cool. The sun is just easing down the horizon and Lake Casitas shimmers in the distance. At this atypical home, even the view is art.

08-01-08

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