House Tour: Mike's Amazing Mid-Century Pad

Los Angeles

Name: Mike
Location: The Mulholland corridor
Size: 2,200 Square feet
Years lived in: 10 years

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We have seen our fair share of Mid-Century inspired homes here on Apartment Therapy but we must say, this house tour just might stand out from the rest. The passion that Mike has towards his home and the work that has gone into making it one of a kind is remarkable. We happened to attend a CD release party at this house last January. The minute we pulled up it was love at first sight. We walked in and saw the pool and the surroundings--it was one of those LA nights when you're really glad you left the house. Everywhere you turn there's a view to be had, a piece of furniture to take a closer look at. We were constantly amazed at the openness of the house. The space had a Rear Window-ey feel where you could see guests in every room, no matter where you stood. We were so excited to get invited back to Mike's home during the day to take pictures for this house tour. We are enamored with the thought and effort (now that we know the back story) that went into this house and rank it tops in our book.

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AT Survey:

Location (extended): This is a funny story.  The first time I had my niece Lynn here for dinner, she asked the same question.  A straightlaced, down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-is-friend (who lived even further west, toward Laurel Canyon) said with straight face “Studio City is NOT the Valley” and proceeded to spin out her argument.  When David Lynch needed an iconic “Hollywood” house in the hills for his movie Mulholland Drive (everyone remembers THAT house), he selected the one 3 doors down the street.  According to the City of LA, the house is located in “the Mulholland corridor” which essentially means building is difficult.  The post office says we’re in Studio City.  If you go a few blocks down Ventura Blvd, the zip code changes and becomes “Hollywood Hills East.”  What can I say?  We’re the first ridge when you approach the Valley from the Cahuenga Pass; we’re near Mulholland Drive; but I go with the zip code – coupled with the fact that the approach to the house is actually Ventura Blvd.  But according to my friend (who has since moved to Houston), Studio City is NOT the Valley…

History of House: Our little ridge has apparently always been an unusual spot – close to everything, but in the middle of all, city views but surrounded by greenbelt.  It has always been a place for unusual people (I used to tell people I lived between Erik Estrada and Xena the Warrior Princess, with an ex-Eagle thrown in for fun).  I bought the house from the son of the original owner/builder.  She commissioned Kenneth Lind, who I believe was teaching at USC when the house was built in 1952, who was something of an architect’s architect: creative, well-versed, good design and good with clients.  I spoke with Pierre Koenig (who designed the iconic case study house #22 – an original Julius Shulman picture of #22 hangs in the second bedroom - before he died and he not only said he had been taught by Lind but that “everything I know about light and space, I learned from Kenneth Lind." I wish I could tell you that I knew what the house was when I got it – even though I know a fair amount about architecture – but it was so trashed, no one could see what it was, not even me.  Hundreds of people had seen the house and only one offer was generated.  Anyway, the original client was the wife of a car dealer who himself apparently had only 2 requirements: (1) the budget which she quickly figured out how to get around, and (2) that he be able to garage and turn around three 1952 Cadillacs.  If you’ve ever SEEN a 1952 Cadillac, you can understand why the motor court and garage are as big as they are.  This was the party house on the block back in the 1950s and 1960s.  The couple divorced and she kept the house and lived here until her death. 

Style of House: It’s a sophisticated yet simple modernist plan, with elements of Prairie and ranch (both of which are not unrelated to Japanese) thrown in.  It is an unusual mixture that absolutely seems coherent rather than a pastiche…Lind really know what he was doing; he wasn’t just applying trim.  I don’t know if it is intentional, but it seems likely given the way Lind chose to optimize the site – the two (2) arms of the U are both see-through across the pool and change half a level in deference to the residents’ privacy, the site and the simple elevation – Lind used a hip roof rather than a flat roof.  I’m guessing he anticipated that the roof (which floats over the living room) was actually a major design element and would become part of the exterior view (flat roofs are pretty ugly to look down on).  The overall effect is actually somewhat Japanese (which used to be more obvious before we lost our massive Japanese pine to bark beetles last year).  Most of Lind’s other single family homes DO have flat roofs.

Inspiration: This IS an inspirational home.  I’ll list rather than describe: (a) the views, the light and the air; (b) the site which backs up to a meadow; (c) the fact that the house seems so private and expensive even though it sits on a city lot…okay, it’s a LARGE city lot, but it feels way bigger than it is and makes you realize that design DOES have a positive impact on your life and that it can accomplish things that couldn’t be possible except through design.

Favorite Element: I love being in the master bedroom at night and turning my head to the right and looking at the Mulholland corridor, the undeveloped hills of Griffith Park, the lights of the cars coming up the Cahuenga pass and the towers of universal City, and then turning my head to the left and seeing the living room “bridge over” the pool and the pond with the Valley lights below.
 
Biggest Challenge: Restoration (versus just doing what you want) is tough.  For one thing, much restraint is required.  The upstairs bathroom is a great space, but by today’s standards not luxurious enough for a master bath.  Crosby Doe, the dean of market of architectural homes told me “do not change the bathroom!”  For another thing, to do a restoration right, it really does take a village (as a houseguest of mine once remarked); everyone’s opinion must be considered, balanced and assimilated.  I guess they did a good job because (a) well, YOU like the house, and (b) the same team helped me win the prestigious LA Conservancy’s annual Preservation Award for our restoration of a small apartment house designed by Richard Neutra during his high period.  The third thing is materials; many are not available or even allowed.  Our roof for example, such an integral feature of the house was original shingle, but wood roofs are no longer allowed.  It took me and the architect four (4) years to figure out what material to use, and even then, I worked with my roofer to install it in a unique way the manufacturer believes hasn’t been done before.  And don’t start on the doors: try to find 12 foot steel sliding glass doors!

What Friends Say: “PLEASE let me buy your house from you if you ever sell it.”  Of course now that the real estate market is, well, less heated and I’m not actually living at the house, I DO wonder where all those people ARE.

Proudest DIY: The stone floor.  Everyone thinks it’s original, but it isn’t.  Because we only had a limited amount of space between the bottom of the enormous sliding glass doors and the top of the concrete foundation, I couldn’t use really thick stone.  But to install the large pieces of stone, we needed a dense material.  THEN we had to coordinate the coloration of the individual pieces (because natural stone varies a lot in color) and the joints – because we wanted them to lead the eye in a manner consistent with Lind’s amazing sight lines.  It took a month.  The floor has been one of those improvements that I would unequivocally do again.

Biggest Indulgence: There are two, and they kill me because I always wanted to do them, finally did them, and they weren’t even complete before I moved, so I’ve never enjoyed the finished product (I hope SOMEONE does).  The first is the design of the front pond/patio; it just always seemed clear to me that the pool wanted to sweep through the house and pull your eye out even farther.  The second is related – it’s the landscaping.  I had a world class plant collection before I was out of high school (which of course dissipated after I left for Stanford).  The microclimate here is amazing and I wanted to landscape with rare plants including those from Madagascar and other parts of southern Africa.  The landscape architect I FINALLY found is a real plantsman and a perfectionist.  The drainage and irrigation system here are very detailed and sophisticated.  I hope the garden we’ve started lasts for decades.

Best advice: Before I bought my first house (which I also owned for 10 years) my sainted father said “remember: it’s your home first an investment second.”  Of course THAT house quickly rose in value and then fell far below what I paid – but I always liked living there.  I have never bought any property that I thought was a “good deal” – here in LA we are blessed to have the richest, most diverse stock of housing around – if you’re willing to trade price for area, you can live in virtually any kind of space you want.
 

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Resources

Kitchen:

Table--is an IKEA knockoff (Saarinen design)

Cabinets--Salvaged from an original St. Charles kitchen given from husband to wife as an anniversary present in 1960

Living Room with Fire Place

Couch--Futurama on LaBrea

2 Chairs--vintage Paul McCobb from San Francisco

Coffee Table--Eames surf-board table and Saarinen womb chair from Knoll

Living Room with Stereo

Couch and Chaise--Vintage McCobb with original fabric from NoHo Modern on LaCienega

Table--Knoll

Console--One of a kind prototype from Brazil

Little table with benches--Estate sale in Malibu

Bedroom

Vanity With Porthole Mirrors--Christiansen piece from Thanks For The Memories on Melrose

Bed--Custom from Steven King designs (he is amazing)

Master Bedroom

Headboard/Night-table/Vanity--Steven King made as a "reverse-engineered" design from the original Richard Neutra pieces in the building we restored

Lighting

Designed by Architect

(Thanks Mike!)

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