Saturday, September 11, 2010

Case Study Houses

Two of the most iconic residences in Los Angeles—if not the entire world—are the Eames and Stahl houses. Part of the case study house movement instigated in 1945 by John Entenza, editor of the prestigious (but now defunct) Art & Architecture magazine, both homes embody a mid-century emphasis on inside/outside design that incorporated nature into the structure’s living space. The magazine helped defray some of the building costs in exchange for publishing rights to each home’s story. Case study houses were also required to be open to the public for thirty days before the owners moved in. The purpose was to inspire other urban dwellers to construct practical homes that reflected postwar sensibilities. Although the architects were tasked with creating replicable models, each case study house became a masterpiece unto itself, resulting in a body of work that is still worshipped by lovers of modern architecture.

We had, of course, already visited both properties as part of much larger home tours. But when I read in the L.A. Times that a small private (15 people) tour of both houses (together!) was being offered a couple of weeks ago, we quickly purchased the last two remaining tickets. Led by a fellow who works for the Eames and Stahl foundations, the tour started at the Eames house, located on a Pacific Palisades bluff overlooking the ocean. We then shuttled over to the Stahl house in the Hollywood Hills. Our small group of enthusiasts included a couple from Texas and an architect from Canada.

Eames House (Case Study House #8)

Built in 1948 with ready-made off-the-shelf materials, case study house #8 was home to the residence’s architects Charles and Ray Eames, world-renowned furniture makers and interior designers. Their simple two-story rectangular home and office are set on the north end of a meadow ringed in eucalyptus trees. Though we were not allowed inside, the living space was clearly visible through large windows that welcome the surrounding landscape. The large red, blue and orange panels decorating the outside of the house are immediately recognizable to anyone who has studied iconic L.A. architecture. I could easily see myself living there, surrounded by bookcases and nature.

The Eames grounds are open to the public and well worth the drive to the Palisades. For more information, click here.

Stahl House (Case Study House #22)

Arguably the single most photographed home in Los Angeles, the Stahl house became instantly famous thanks to Julius Shulman’s black-and-white shot of two women sitting in the living room, perched precariously above a spectacular L.A. basin. Much like the Eames home, case study house #22 is simple in design and materials—an L-shaped, steel-framed building that opens onto a swimming pool—but it’s location is far more breathtaking. No rolling meadow or ring of trees here. Instead, the house is situated atop a cliff overlooking Sunset Blvd., reinforcing mid-century L.A.’s love of death-defying architecture and magnificent views. Although I could never live there (too afraid of heights), it was almost heartbreaking to leave.

The Stahl house is open periodically for day and evening “viewings.” Click here for more information.

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