03/22/2018

Mid Century Modern in Los Angeles

By Andrew Dolan

At the end of January, I had the pleasure of going to visit one of my favorite cities, which in my opinion, gets a bad reputation. I love Los Angeles for several reasons, one of which is its diverse topography. Los Angeles consists of a massive desert sprawl of often bizarre and random architecture, fertile hills populated with high perched single-family residences (seemingly haphazardly), and all that the California coast has to offer. It’s a city that accommodates a plethora of lifestyles and housing options; apartment living, beach bungalows, single-family homes, and more recently high-rise living. To me, nothing epitomizes Californian living better than the mid-century modern home. Today, modern single-family homes in the hills can be glamorous and over-the-top, however their prototypes were anything but.

 

Cover of Arts & Architecture Magazine’s the Case study issue

Between 1945-1966 the Case Study Program was sponsored by the Arts & Architecture Magazine. The program commissioned major architects of the day, including Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames, and Pierre Koenig, to design and build inexpensive and efficient model homes. The homes were intended to be capable of mass production to accommodate the United States housing boom at the end of World War II. Open concept layouts, panoramic glass walls, indoor/outdoor living were all staples of the designs produced for the program and culturally they began to define what modern Californian living meant. 

Eames House, Case Study Home No.8

One of the Case Study homes I’ve visited is the Eames House (above). Also known as Case Study Home No. 8, it is a landmark of mid-20th century architecture located in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles overlooking Santa Monica. The home was designed by husband-and-wife Charles and Ray Eames for themselves and they lived in the home until their deaths. They described the house as “unselfconscious, that there is a sense of way-it-should-be-ness about it.” The home consists of two steel boxes tied together by a 200 ft. concrete retaining wall. Not only was the home affordable to build, but it was simple to build – the couple helped construct it themselves (below). 

Construction of the Eames House

Perhaps my favorite Case Study Home is the Stahl House, designed by Pierre Koenig in 1959. The Stahls were a self-proclaimed “blue collar family living in a white collar house.” The home was designed as a true case study home; affordable and easy to replicate. The Stahls bought the property the house sits on in 1954 for $13,500. Construction costs for this iconic home totaled at a mere $37,500 dollars and construction lasted 13 months. Arguably, it’s one of the most recognizable Case Study homes given the attention it’s been given by pop culture. Photographer Julius Shulman glamorized the home in his iconic black and white photograph below. The home has also appeared in several television shows and commercials.

 

Photographer Julius Shulman's iconic black and white photograph

The front view of the Stahl House

On one of my previous trips to Los Angeles, I had the privilege to tour yet another great mid-century modern home with the architect currently renovating and restoring the home. The Sheats-Goldstein Residence is a deviation from the Case Study Program in the sense that it was not economically designed nor is it easily replicable, but it has the same hallmarks that make the case study homes as successful as they are; panoramic glass walls, industrial construction, open-concept living, etc. The Sheats-Goldstein residence was designed by John Lautner, former apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright. It was built in 1963 for a UCLA professor, his wife and their five children. The family moved out of the home only a few years after it was finished, perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the design of the home wasn’t suitable to a young family. In 1972, eccentric millionaire James Goldstein (fashion icon, self-proclaimed basketball super-fan and art mogul) purchased the home when it was in disrepair and worked with Lautner to restore and improve upon the original design. Recently, Goldstein has donated the home to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In addition to a Lautner-inspired private night club, there is also a permanent James Turrell installation on site. The home has been featured in "Charlie's Angels", "The Big Lebowski", and “Bandits.”

 

The Sheats-Goldstein residence pool view

Living room looking out onto the pool

The Sheats-Goldstein residence kitchen

The Sheats-Goldstein residence master bedroom