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A little genius: Reviving an L.A. master's modestly sized house

November 4, 2011 | 10:31 am

Schindler Nikitas living
It was October 2007, the height of the real estate frenzy, and Kali Nikitas and Richard Shelton had all but given up on owning their own home. “We were spending all our time looking at houses, then bidding on them and never getting one,” says Shelton, who, along with his wife, is an academic administrator at Otis College of Art and Design in Westchester. “It was driving us crazy.”

Around midnight of the day they called it quits, Nikitas went on Craigslist for one last try. She typed in “Westside” and a price range of $450,000 to $650,000. The first house to appear was a modern home. She clicked on it. That's when the screaming began. “Oh, my God! Oh, my God! It's a Schindler!”

PHOTOS: Side-by-side Schindlers in Inglewood

She called at 8 the next morning, and at 2 p.m. she and Shelton met with owner Grace Berryman. "You're suppose to play it cool. We did not play it cool," Nikitas says, laughing. "I told her, 'We're going to give you everything we have. We want this house.' "

Schindler Nikitas lightAsked by Berryman what they planned to do with the house, the couple answered in unison: Restore it. “That must have been the right answer,” Shelton says.

Two hours later they shook hands on the deal. They were the new owners of an authentic two-bedroom, one-bath, nearly 1,000-square-foot house by one of the most renowned architects of the 20th century, Rudolph M. Schindler. Price: $580,000.

“Never in our wildest dreams,” Nikitas says, “did either one of us ever think we would be living in a home by such an important architect.”

Schindler-Nikitas-side
Built in 1940, the house was in decent shape with a strong foundation but had endured multiple owners, Nikitas says, “with each one adding their own little bits.” The restoration, which is still in progress, has been a slow, systematic removal of inappropriate alterations.

They began by removing the ornate Spanish railing on a patio area atop the garage, as well as an unsightly steel-bolted security door. Inside, they stripped paint off the marine-grade plywood. They ripped out the 1980s Home Depot cabinet under the sink in the bathroom and a toilet that didn't work, replacing them with a matching '40s-style sink and toilet from Craigslist. In time, the couple plan to install a Schindler-style cabinet, taking their cue from one they saw in a Schindler house in Woodland Hills.

Ugly '80s vinyl tiles were removed in the bath and kitchen, replaced with more appropriate linoleum, a favorite Schindler material. Also gone are the generic kitchen tiles that had clad the fireplace mantel. Removing additional tiles to the left of the fireplace revealed traces of a built-in. The Schindler house down the street still had its original built-in kindling box, so Nikitas and Shelton used that as their model to build a similar one.

“We are in the house of our dreams,” she says. “Not a day goes by that we don't thank our lucky stars. We call it the Big Miracle.”

-- Barbara Thornburg

Schindler-Nikitas-back
Nikitas, Shelton and their dog, Ravi, in the backyard, where glass doors from the living room open to another sitting area outside.

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Photo credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times

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