“In reality, the architects of the Modernist movement, just like all their predecessors, wanted their houses to speak. Only not of the nineteenth century. Or of privilege and aristocratic life. Or of the middle ages or ancient Rome. They wanted their houses to speak of the future, with its promise of speed and technology, democracy, and science.”
– Alain de Botton
That passage comes from Alain de Botton’s Architecture of Happiness, a fascinating meditation on how and why our buildings make us happy.
A property that just came on the market recently got me to thinking about de Botton’s book and modern architecture in general.
Here in Southern California, we are surrounded by many fine examples of modern residential architecture. Homes designed by R.M. Schindler, Richard Neutra, and both Wrights are still standing and in service. As are many of the Case Study homes, and residences created by John Lautner, Gregory Ain, Pierre Koenig, and scores of others. At the dawn of the 21st century, the mid-century aesthetic is enjoying a renaissance.
Although Modernist architecture can mean many different things, there is one philosophical thread that holds it together. That is, a Modernist building should represent a break from the past. It should be free from faux period decoration or nostalgic flourish such as columns, spires, or archways. There should be no form without function.
In the hands of a master architect, this guiding principle can render a creation every bit as dramatic and sublime as a gothic cathedral.
But the reference point for Modernists has always been the future.
So, the question is, what happens when this imagined future comes and goes, and with it, whole new notions of speed and technology, democracy, and science emerge?
A little over a year ago, we featured this delightful restoration on Fredonia Drive listed by Crosby Doe, Crosby Doe & Associates. The property is a serene, woody retreat very much molded to the needs of the original owner, Disney artist Mary Blair. Built in 1939, the home served as studio and modest living quarters for Blair and her husband.
In 2015, the owner of the home had restored the home to near original condition, painstakingly adding period appliances and surfaces to create a near museum quality specimen. The restoration was coherent and well-researched. However, the contemporary homeowner would find some compromises would be necessary. Viking stove? Not quite. Master suite? How about small, built-in twin singles?
Nevertheless, the home found a buyer in spring 2016.
It is now back on the market, with updates, listed by Heidi Lake, Marc Silver, Barry Sloane, and Sotheby’s International Realty for $1,895,000.
Which version do you prefer?