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Architect William Hefner's California style: luxury mixed with simplicity

In his upcoming book, “California Homes II,” architect William Hefner showcases six years of work, ranging from modern and sleek to historic and rustic, all celebrating his holistic approach to design and the spirit of Southern California.

His namesake Studio William Hefner, located in Los Angeles, has increased its range of modern projects and opened an office in Montecito, all while expanding its horizons across the region’s “cinematic landscape of canyons, palisades and grand Old Hollywood neighborhoods,” as Hefner writes in the book, which features architecture, interior design and landscape design by the firm, founded in 1989.

“We have 10 projects in it, and I spent almost two years working on every detail,” Hefner said of the 400-page opus, set for release this month. Its predecessor, “California Homes,” also from Images Publishing Group, came out in 2013.

Hefner describes his style, whether the design is contemporary or traditional, as combining luxury and simplicity — “tailored and restrained” but not austere.

“There’s nothing monastic about what we do,” Hefner said. “There’s enough detail and complexity happening visually that it feeds you, in a way.

“I’m more concerned with things being classic and timeless than trendy, if possible,” he added. “I really like trying something that we’ve never really tried before, but dialing it into something that will resonate for people.”

Such was the case with one of the ambitious projects featured in the book, the playful yet slick Brise Soleil. The modern Beverly Hills abode features heat-protective metal louvers, whimsical pink-and-mint glass panels and a massive L-shaped pool wrapped around a backyard lounge, creating an 82-foot swimming lane.

“When we asked the owner what he was looking for, he said, ‘I just want something really out of the box.’ I mean, what client tells you that? That was a real dream project,” Hefner said.

Another example, Romero Canyon in Montecito, was the realization of a more personal dream for the architect, one shared with his late wife and longtime creative partner, Kazuko Hoshino. She died in April.

A rustic family home hugged by the Santa Catalina Mountains and 200-year-old California live oak trees, it groups neighboring structures into a compound to share with family and friends.

How did you get your start as an architect?

When I was a kid I used to sketch floor plans; it was a no-brainer, it just seemed like what I would always do. I ended up going to graduate school at UCLA and for eight years designed high-rise buildings all over the world for an international company called Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. It was a good education, but it wasn’t what I loved, so I started doing homes. Almost 30 years — a long time.

Where do you pull inspiration for your work?

Probably travel; remember those days when we could do that? After graduate school I lived in Greece for a year, and as a kid lived in Ireland for a summer. Kazuko and I were married for a while before we had kids and would just take off and go whenever there was sort of a lull in work. Because of her being from Japan, we traveled a lot through Asia — Vietnam, Singapore, Bali. And also in Europe.

Tell me about your environmental building and sustainable architecture practices.

Sustainability is important to us, and we were fortunate to get a good lesson in green building and design on a house we did for [actor and passionate environmentalist] Ed Begley Jr. It was really fun because he had very lofty goals — everything had to be sustainable and off the grid. Planting and irrigating were OK only if it grew food; we had rainwater catchment, gray water, lots of solar panels and battery backup. It was like a post-graduate degree, in a way, and a tremendous learning experience that I’ve tried to apply to other projects over the last couple of years.

You also do historical restoration work.

I’ve lived in Hancock Park for the last 25 years, and it’s been really satisfying taking a house that is almost 100 years old and modernizing the floor plan a bit, without losing the character. I think we’ve done over 20 restoration projects in the last few years for ourselves and other people — my art history background has paid off doing that. It’s a really fun part of our practice, and much better in terms of environmental impact.

How did you and Kazuko meet and end up working together as designers?

We met about five years into my own practice. After five years of being married, I dared to ask the “what if we worked together” question, being a little afraid of the whole thing. I thought that proposal was riskier than the first one. The office was growing, and I couldn’t really cover the interiors, the architecture and the landscape all myself, so it was great timing. Then she came in and led that part of the firm.

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