L.A. at Home

Design, Architecture, Gardens,
Southern California Living

Category: Midcentury

The Dry Garden: Custom gutters and the art of catching rain

Gutters with rain chainsTo harvest rain from your roof for the garden, first you have to catch it. This requires gutters. Gutters are by no means universal appurtenances. Some home styles, such as Craftsman, Spanish and Colonial lend themselves so happily to gutters that they usually come with them. The rolled metal amounts to jewelry around the eaves.

However, put the same gutters on a modern home and you have a problem. The handsomeness of the structure is often defined by the lines of the roof and eaves. Gutters look dumpy; downspouts amount to vandalism.

The upshot? To those of us who live in midcentury homes and want to practice water conservation, the question of whether or not to put up gutters can feel like a choice between looking good or being good.

The realization that a modern house could indeed be artfully guttered came accidentally, during an October visit to a 1952 Smith and Williams home in the San Rafael Hills. The place was mobbed during an estate sale, and I did not get the lamp that I had come for, but walking out I noticed a rain chain hanging from a portico. Above, a flat fascia had been fitted with custom gutters that were so discreet you had to stare hard to determine that they were even there.

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Paul László at your table: 1954 design in table linens

Looking for some midcentury inspiration for your holiday table? How about a 1954 Paul László textile design that's part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Pacific Standard Time exhibit, “California Design, 1930–1965: Living in a Modern Way”? As Adam Tschorn reports on our sister blog All the Rage, Los Angeles-based loungewear label Bedhead Pajamas has collaborated with the museum to create the table linens as well as T-shirts, pajamas and boxer shorts. Tschorn writes that the pieces are available through the LACMA gift shop and Bedhead’s store on 3rd Street in L.A. Check out the All the Rage post on the László design for more details.

And if you haven't yet seen the LACMA show, go. The textiles in the show are fantastic, as is the re-creation of the Eames living room. For a preview, Times photographer Bryan Chan created a time-lapse video of the Eames move. Over several weeks, Chan captured LACMA's art handlers as they packed up the belongings of Charles and Ray Eames in their landmark Pacific Palisades house and installed the contents of the living room in a full-scale replica at the museum.


Pacific Standard Time

L.A. at Home's 2011 spin on 1951 photo

LACMA re-creates 1951 L.A. Times photo

Eames House launches preservation campaign

-- Craig Nakano

Photo: Paul László textile designs. Credit: Grant Mudford


Small Schindler house in Inglewood remodeled for a new era

Architect Steven Ehrlich is sitting in the front garden of a 1940 Rudolph M. Schindler home in Inglewood that he recently restored for daughter Onna Ehrlich-Bell and her family. Forty-foot-tall liquidambars line the street of mostly post-World War II houses. It's a real Ozzie and Harriet neighborhood, traditional to its core except for this low-slung piece of modern design. For two years, this is where Ehrlich spent much of his time — “channeling Schindler,” he says with a chuckle.

Schindler-Ehrlich-livingAs Ehrlich tells the story, it was serendipity that he came upon the home by the renowned midcentury architect whose iconic Kings Road House in West Hollywood is often considered the big bang of California Midcentury Modernism. Ehrlich and his wife, Nancy Griffin, had been invited to dinner by friends Kali Nikitas and Richard Shelton.

"I'd never been to their home before," Ehrlich says, "but as soon as I walked through the door, I asked, 'Is this a Schindler?' "

PHOTO GALLERY: Side-by-side Schindler houses in Inglewood

It was. And so was the house next door, and, incredibly, another down the street. As fate would have it, the Schindler next door was the subject of a probate sale the next day. “He built three houses on the same street in 1940 for a developer on spec, which was very unusual for him,” says Kimberli Meyer, director of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Kings Road House, where Schindler explored the relationship of space, light and form, as well as communal living.

Ehrlich toured the Inglewood probate house the following day, then put in the winning bid: $265,000.

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

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.”

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Vintage European Posters plans sale in Santa Monica

Vintage French poster
Few things proclaim one's weakness for midcentury modern design as succinctly as a vintage furniture poster. (I should know: I bought one illustrating classic Danish chairs as a souvenir from a trip to Copenhagen.) Finding such works of advertising art, however, can be a bit of a treasure hunt -- a hunt made easier with the "trunk show" held in November every year by Berkeley-based Vintage European Posters. This year Vintage European Posters' trunk sale is Nov. 12 and 13 at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. Admission is free.

The company, which specializes in product, exhibition and travel posters from 1880 to 1970 (with a few late 20th century pieces) sells its wares online but also participates in shows such as Dwell on Design. The selection includes the anonymously designed "Ameublement" ("Furnishings"), above, printed in France around 1965. It is a linen-backed period original, not a contemporary reproduction, available for $1,650 -- on the high side of the company's authentic offerings, which start as low as $220.

Vintage wine posterOther finds: Graphic prints designed for the General Dynamics corporation by Erik Nitsche in 1955 with text in multiple languages, and a stash of mid-1960s posters celebrating the Golden State, including the Amado Gonzalez design at right, $325.

You'll also find a stash of United Airlines and TWA travel posters and, of course, a multitude of French posters advertising soap, soda pop and more. For those who like a message, Vintage European Posters also offers striking patriotic designs from the two world wars.

The artwork varies from straightforward illustration to gentle surrealism. Owner Elizabeth Norris travels across the U.S. and throughout Europe to find her stock and is frequently approached by collectors. Recently, she wrote in an email, she acquired dozens of midcentury travel posters and nearly 200 World War II advertisements for volunteerism. Norris, who will be on hand at the trunk show, added,  "I have been collecting since I was young and love meeting other people who want to geek out on the history of graphic design."

Keep reading to see more posters ...

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Home tour: Vintage living in Joshua Tree

Steve Halterman and Glenn Steigelman don't take the term “garage sale” literally. Steigelman, a ceramics fan, has been known to peek around the sides of houses and ask: Might you be willing to part with that pot? (And you can keep the plant. He just wants the container.)

Joshua Tree bedroomHalterman, the grandson of one of the founders of a swap meet in El Cajon, grew up buying and selling at flea markets and has the keen eye of a lifelong scavenger. “Wherever I go, I am going to be hitting thrift stores and flea markets,” the filmmaker and set designer for national magazine fashion shoots said. “I will pull the car over in the middle of a job if I see a yard sale.”

Such dedication has paid off handsomely. At a time when so much of the country is obsessed with thrift, Halterman and Steigelman's Joshua Tree retreat is all about the joy of secondhand finds. Almost all of the furnishings in the couple's midcentury home — a retreat that is at once stylish, humorous and period correct — are bargains of one sort or another. Many pieces are pedigree vintage designs from the likes of Architectural Pottery and Glenn of California. Other items, such as troll dolls, string art and depictions of E.T., suggest an appreciation for kitsch and pop culture ephemera.

PHOTOS: Joshua Tree vintage retreat

The couple, who principally live in Silver Lake, purchased the Joshua Tree property as a weekend getaway in 2006. It was a post-World War II shack that went up when a government program granted 5 acres to homesteaders who built a 500-square-foot structure. Subsequent remodeling in the late 1970s added a guest bedroom, kitchen and screened-in porch that Halterman has since turned into a crafts studio where he makes Modernist stained-glass lanterns and windows.

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California Midcentury meets Latin American modern in Los Feliz


Walk into this house's light-filled “glass bridge,” an entry hallway with floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides, and you're welcomed by raked stucco walls in saturated pink and saffron, a nod to Mexican Modernist architect Luis Barragán. A pint-sized wading pool, tiled in graphic black and white, punctuates the view outside, where a tropical profusion of plants stirs the owner's memories of childhood in Colombia: flowering canna, philodendron and cereus, a fragrant night bloomer found throughout South and Central America.

Purdydevis3For Juan Devis, a Colombian-born filmmaker and producer at KCET, and wife artist Laura Purdy, the remodel of their house was all about warmth, emotion and personal connections. In a city where contemporary homes are prized for their clean — some might say cold — simplicity, the 1952 Los Feliz home stands out as something different: California Midcentury meets Latin American modern.

PHOTO GALLERY: Purdy-Devis house

Working with architects Linda Taalman, Alan Koch and Rebecca Rudolph of Taalman Koch Architecture, the couple recently finished work on the 2,000-square-foot home where they have lived since 2003. (At right: A new dining area off the patio has some eucalyptus round cuts set in gravel.) Purdy and Devis bought the house after writing a note to the owners.

“I told them that we would be raising our children here,” Devis recalled.

Although there were four or five other bids on the house, Devis thinks he and Purdy won because the owners wanted the home to go to another family.

Seven years later, however, following costly repairs and patchwork, the couple admitted to themselves that the house needed a more thorough renovation. Though the artists were up for a creative challenge, they were also puzzled about what to do.

“Linda and Alan were the only architects who said, ‘Let's not make it bigger,'” Devis said. Space wasn't added, just rethought.


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Fred MacMurray, the not-so-Modern man


The 1946 photo by the legendary Maynard Parker shows the Brentwood living room of actor Fred MacMurray. Where are the Eames plywood chairs and Noguchi coffee table, you might ask? Despite what you may see during Pacific Standard Time, the Getty-led celebration of postwar California art and design, midcentury wasn't as Modern as some might think, writes Sam Watters in his latest Lost L.A. column:

Exhibitions across the region will revisit the buildings, furniture and tchotchkes of a mythic halcyon time when Americans finally woke up to the genius of 20th century design, casting aside failed traditions for Formica futures. ... What actually got “buried” in this modernist tale are the stories of Americans who didn’t belong to the boomerang table and plywood set. They, like the MacMurrays, found reassurance in decorating that began with George Washington, not George Nelson.

For more on how much of midcentury America really lived, read Watters' monthly column, a look at the homes and gardens of times past through the lens of contemporary culture.

Full article: Fred MacMurray, a not-so-Modern man


Eames move video ALSO:

"California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way"

Time-lapse video: Eames living room moved for "Modern Way"

Landmark Houses: The Times series

Photo credit: Maynard L. Parker / Courtesy of the Huntington Library

Modern living: A 2011 spin on a 1951 photo


0-LAT-Home-1951 The Times photo studio was abuzz (and aflame) earlier this week as we re-created an October 1951 Los Angeles Times Home Magazine cover, swapping out the furniture of the past  with California design of the present.

Inspired by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's authentic restaging of that 1951 scene, the Home crew earlier this month took key elements -- indoor armchair, patio chair, planter, fire feature and so on -- and nominated contemporary California designers and manufacturers who embodied modern living. We added a category, pet beds, to acknowledge the larger role that pets play in our lives (and our pocketbooks). Then we asked you to vote.

More than 6,700 votes were cast, and the designs pictured in the photo at top represent your favorites, assembled and staged by writers David A. Keeps and Lisa Boone with an assist from Katy McNerney. Your choices -- a rechargeable LED outdoor lamp, a computer-cut room divider and more -- spoke volumes about what modern living means today.

PHOTOS: California design poll nominees and winners

INTERACTIVE KEY: The 2011 photo deconstructed

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LACMA re-creates 1951 Times photo for 'Modern Way' exhibit

Living Modern

0-LAT-Home-1951 The Los Angeles County Museum of Art will open “California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way” on Saturday with a 60-year-old magazine cover brought to life. An October 1951 cover of the L.A. Times Home magazine has been re-created as part of the exhibit, complete with plastic Eames armchair, Van Keppel-Green cord patio furniture and other pieces of modern living. It's a scene that Times editors presented with the headline: “What Makes the California Look.”

Full article: LACMA re-creates 1951 Home cover

“People are still clamoring for accessible modernism, and these pieces fulfill that desire as well as speak to interest in the past and in how people lived when there was promise and hope, the dawning of a new age,” said Bobbye Tigerman, co-curator of the show. “It speaks to contemporary desires and hearkening back to old times.”


"California Design 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way"

Time-lapse video: Eames House living room moved to museum

Eames House launches preservation project

-- David Hay

Photo: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times


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