Friday, May 21, 2010


Once upon a time, when I was two, Philip Johnson was finishing up his now world-famous Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. And here it is:

I remember, quite specifically—at what must have been a very young age—seeing black and white photographs of this house in Life magazine. And what I remember thinking is: "Yikes, that's a lot of exposure," or whatever the kid equivalent of that expression might have been in the suburbs of New York in the 1950s.

I would like to say that the Glass House inspired me right then and there to become an architect, and maybe it did, although I did not turn out to be an architect. I started down that path, but I diverged and time marched relentlessly forward. I forgot about glass houses until I moved from my native East Coast to Los Angeles and found out what mid-century California modernism was about: Neutra and Schindler and Eames—oh, my! Here, for example, is Richard Neutra's 1947 Kaufmann House in Palm Springs (built for the same clearly visionary man who commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water): 

Living on the Left Coast, I found that indoor/outdoor architecture was having its way with my core beliefs. I began to covet my neighbors' house. I lusted after a home that steamrollered the lines of demarcation between the interior and exterior. (This is not the same thing as "having no boundaries," which was an issue in therapy, but that is not for this time and place).

Here is another lovely domicile, the world famous Stahl House by Pierre Koenig:

If any single building of the Case Study period deserves the term "iconic," the Stahl House is it (thanks largely to photographer Julius Shulman).

A friend of mine, the late Bruce Eicher, lived in a John Lautner house that had an outdoor swimming pool that slid under a glass wall into the living room. The main, elevated seating area, facing the view, had a wall on wheels that could be rolled out of the way for greater access to the out-of-doors.

One of the more interesting things about living in L.A. is that the houses have inspired so many later, still practicing architects. Some of the best of the West have not only assimilated the lessons of their predecessors but have been called upon to renovate and expand the houses themselves. Here, for example, is a 1948 Neutra house on the beach below the Santa Monica bluffs with an addition by an architect still very much in his prime, Steven Ehrlich

I love how the vaulted roof of the addition's outdoor dining room echoes the living room window bay. This house, by the way, has a pool enclosed by a wall that is retractable so that when you're sitting on the deck you look straight out onto the beach and the Pacific beyond. Nice. I want it. I'll take it. Sigh.

Here's a house Steven built from scratch up on a ridge near enough to the ocean to see it:

And just so you know he practices what he preaches, here is Mr. Ehrlich's own house in Venice (not the one in Italy):

The first time I saw this house, it was still under construction. Even then it was magical. 

Now, as much as I love Steven, I would have to consider a few other firms if I were building my dream house. Look, for example, at this shot of an Idaho home built by Olson Kundig Architects in Seattle (the first time I saw it my jaw just about dropped):

Partner Tom Kundig was the design principal on this little gem, but Jim Olson shares the aesthetic, even when working in a city setting, as in this Seattle loft:

And here's one of my favorite projects of theirs, a cabin in the woods (near Skykomish, Washington), where the walls open on hinges to let nature in:

This little "wooden tent on a platform," as the architects modestly call it, reminded me of another leafy location, the renovation by Marmol Radziner of architect Cliff May's "Experimental Ranch," which he built in a Los Angeles canyon as his own residence in 1952. (The photograph is by Joe Fletcher.)

This was a dream assignment for Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner, who established their firm in 1989 and have since mastered the art of making environments for a "transparent" life style no matter what the architectural idiom. 

Check out two views of their prototype prefab house in Desert Hot Springs. It's got 2,000 square feet of indoor living space with an additional 2,000 square feet of covered outdoor space among, amid, and between—oh, and views that go a lot farther than you'd want to walk. (Photographs by David Glomb.)

I could go on like this all day, so I think I will. The firm of Min|Day, conveniently located in both San Francisco and Omaha, created this lovely lake place:

I love how the end of the house cantilevers subtly over the grade, making the living room a floating vitrine. The firm is named after two architects, E.B. Min and Jeffrey Day, and I totally love the bathroom they did in this house for the family's three sons:

It just goes to show how much fun you can have while being absolutely modern and highly practical—and the window, cut to frame the tree and the view of the lake behind it, is an object lesson in the art of fenestration.

In closing, I'm just going to offer up a portfolio of images of a house in Palo Alto, California, by Bay Area architect Anne Fougeron. Beautiful, sophisticated, transparent, it's a winner on too many levels to list.

What can I say? More later!—ML


  1. I love these choices Michael! These are dream houses that we can borrow ideas from for our next project. . . but boy we'd have to get rid of a lot of stuff ;)

  2. Brian: That's why God invented storage lockers!