Monday, July 7, 2008

Mid Century Masterpiece

Los Angeles is all about real estate, so it is not surprising that it became a place where new residential architecture could develop, both on the grand scale for wealthy folks, and on the modest scale for everyone else.

Between 1945 and 1966, a magazine called Arts & Architecture, responding to the post-war real estate boom, commissioned nationally known architects to build contemporary homes. They were expected to be built with a modest budget, use new but easily available materials, and be suitable for "the average American in search of a home in which he can afford to live."

This challenge, which ended up actually building over twenty homes and one apartment building, was known as the Case Study House Program.

Noted architects such as Richard Neutra, Craig Ellwood, Charles Eames and Quincy Jones designed houses, and many of them are still standing today. But the house that most people remember when they think of the Case Study program is Case Study House #22, by Pierre Koenig, partly because of the incredible photograph by Julius Shulman that leads this post.

I love how casual yet also glamorous the ladies look in their full skirts. I love the way the room is like an illuminated lantern against the dark night. I love the sheer drop into the void beneath the structure. I love the lights of the city streets stretching into the distance.

A little while ago, I was lucky enough to actually tour this house. A friend invited us to join an architectural tour of several Hollywood Hills houses; Case Study #22 was the final stop.

The home was built in 1960 for the Stahl family. It's a simple L-shape, with a swimming pool cradled in the angle between the living wing and the sleeping wing. The bedrooms open right out onto the pool deck. The living room, dining room, and kitchen walls are entirely made of glass.

Mrs. Stahl raised her kids in this house, and she still lives there today. When our tour group visited, she was graciously available to answer questions.

The house looks very much like the original magazine photos at the link above - even though its a pdf and annoying to load, do go look - it shows everything so beautifully. Very little has been changed. The kitchen even has its original appliances. Can you imagine enjoying this view on a regular basis?

One of the reasons I'm so interested in houses like this is that my house was built in the same era as the Stahl house, and its architect, although unknown, was probably informed by the principles and ideas of the Case Study Houses. Up until moving to Los Angeles, I've always been a lover of old and ornate homes. When we found our 60s era house we knew it was the perfect house for us, but it was disconcerting for me - kind of like falling for a totally unlikely lover. So I've been trying to learn more about mid-century architecture.

When I saw the 60s era appliances in Mrs. Stahl's kitchen, I immediately thought of the 22" wall oven in my own home. When it died only 6 months after we moved into the house, we were presented with a dilemma. Replace it with another ridiculously small duplicate? Or remodel the kitchen? I hope our solution, hastened as it was, was compatible with the style of the home.

But I shouldn't be so worried. Even architectural masterpieces need a little tweaking, and sometimes you have to work with materials at hand. At some point in the last 48 years, the Stahls decided their pool deck needed a little more separation from the carport than Koenig provided. So they added this screen made of mass-produced concrete blocks, visible beyond [The Man I Love]'s shoulder in this photo.

Gack! not very pretty!! Yet it made me feel more relaxed about any remodeling I might do in our modest masterpiece! I am SO starting on the bathrooms soon!

After all, look at the ones in Case Study House #22:


Liz Harrell said...

I so enjoyed this post. Although my tiny little ranch could never begin to touch the hem of this garmet, I too am just fascinated by the house movement after WWII. I would KILL for that bathroom! :)

Kathy Rogers said...

Our Stepford house is a modern house. More "moderne" than mid-century, but a cool looking place, anyway.

The Faux Town house is just an ugly suburban beast, at least on the outside. I've done what I can with the interior.

I love that whole vibe. I drool over the Neutras and the Schindlers when they oh-so-rarely come on the market.

Have you ever seen the Eames house in the Palisades?

Anonymous said...

Great post, great. Beautiful place and a find on your part for a subject.

JCK said...

Isn't the Stahl house used in tons of movies? This was a fun post. Go for the bathrooms!