From Tower Grove Drive, looking out from a wonderfully designed home whose precipice is a hillside in the southern Santa Monica Mountains, the view is truly grand—a sweep that extends dramatically past Los Angeles to the Pacific. And yet the home itself is intimately attuned to the site-specific setting right outside its expanse of its windowed walls.
KAA Design, a boutique studio in Los Angeles, helmed the three-year project, which produced a sustainable two-story structure at its heart. The architecture, a warm, elemental mix of wood and stone, featuring clean lines and other early-modernist undertones, is best understood as an engagement with both the landscape and its homeowners, a couple much inclined toward nature, whose previous home was far more traditional than the Tower Grove contemporary they now inhabit. And while their view from the top is certainly magnificent, so too is the hillside, a thing of real beauty, honest and humanly scaled, a harmonious blend of natural and manmade environments.
This is the point. “One of the things that we bring to the table is a holistic design approach that really looks at the project as not only a house on a property or a hill, in particular, but a house integrated with the hill,” says Duan Tran, partner and principal architect at KAA Design. “How will the architecture and landscape come together to create an indoor/outdoor experience?”
The answer is swift and assured: “We do this collaboratively,” says Tran. In working together from the outset, a KAA Design project not only has a sense of aesthetic, but a visual logic as well. With Tower Grove Drive, the collective approach produced a fluidity not only felt, but pervasively so, from the motor court to the courtyard garden and beyond. Fundamentally important to all parties was that the architecture be sensitive to nature—to try and, as Tran puts it, “stay out of the land as much as possible, but to work with the hillside.” Tree placement, plant selection and the use of gray water from the house to help irrigate the landscape were all facets of the exterior scheme.
…WHILE THEIR VIEW FROM THE TOP IS CERTAINLY MAGNIFICENT, SO TOO IS THE HILLSIDE, A THING OF REAL BEAUTY, HONEST AND HUMANLY SCALED, A HARMONIOUS BLEND OF NATURAL AND MANMADE ENVIRONMENTS
Tasked with creating intimate spaces that still have a sense of openness fell to KAA Design’s Jerry Williams, a landscape architect who used native and climate-appropriate plantings that served both a practical and aesthetic purpose. With the overall aim to tie all the elements together in order to create environs of rich character, Williams selected plants to provide that landscape color and texture, with much of the vegetation edible. (Right off the kitchen is a production garden for a bounty of herbs and vegetables for the house.)
“Creating individual spaces also was really important to this project,” Williams says. “The homeowners wanted more intimate space.” A lovely example is the sitting area just off the husband’s office; suspended over the hillside, it seems to float, grounded only by a few spiky plants of varying height. Discreetly placed plantings throughout the landscape allow for quiet observation, a glass of wine. The wife’s green roofed office, however, with its perimeter fringed in the grass also used over the garage, has a deck with a firepit and chairs for a livelier gathering.
This property also reaches out to the landscape with truly striking architectural features, such as the concrete wall festooned with spidery green growth that stretches across the infinity-edge pool, forming a portal through which the pool can pass. Set slightly back from the pool, frozen in dramatic repose, is a towering single palm tree. If in the water, one looks below to find a patch of succulents. “A secret garden,” says Williams.
“One of the things you try to do in a home like this is unveil the layers,” says Tran, accounting for the way the architecture slowly opens first to the tremendous vista, then to all the beautiful pockets of earth, in one artfully conceived embrace. Though placed in its hillside setting, Tower Grove Drive feels entirely at home in this context, as if it existed long before it was realized—an entirely natural place to be.
Written by JENN THORNTON | Photography Courtesy of MANOLO LANGIS
Despite his accomplishments, architect and designer Jean-Louis Deniot continues to constantly challenge himself. He likes to experiment, take risks and get out of his comfort zone. “Usually, my next project is my dream project!” he says.
Based in Paris, Deniot works all over the planet, designing private homes and creating furniture and lighting collections for different brands, including Jean de Merry, George Smith, Pouenat Ferronnier, and Baker, the American designer and manufacturer of fine home furnishings founded in 1890. “I discovered Baker when I started to spend a lot of time in New York, 15 years ago,” Deniot explains. “Since then, it has been at the back of my mind to create a collection for them. I didn’t expect that would happen so quickly.”
Last year, the 80 versatile, layered pieces of the Deniot collection for Baker entered the market, blurring the line between art and furniture. The pieces act as chameleons, with the ability to either stand out or mingle with antiques as well as mid-century and contemporary finds, depending on the finishes one chooses. “I love all of the pieces with metallic accents because they catch the light and shine,” he confesses. “It’s like jewelry for furnishing.” Handcrafted by artisans in Italy—Venice, and on the island of Murano, in particular—the lighting and mirrors incorporate age-old techniques and modern elements such as hand-blown glass, gesso, resin and water-jet designs.
Drawing inspiration from fashion, art, architecture, nature, music, past projects and travel, Deniot ably mixes design genres from classic to modern. Promoting harmony and well-being through design, he uses different materials and combines geometric shapes and curved silhouettes. “My collection for Baker represents the variation between classic-chic and cool academic that is inherent to my style,” Deniot says. “The designs have been influenced by the styles of various cities. Some have a hint of Paris, others of Vienna or Los Angeles. I am a citizen of the world in that I really embrace and love all cultures and countries I am exposed to, and I think my collection reflects that.
“I would call my Baker designs ‘classic contemporary’ or ‘futuristic-classic,’ ” he adds. “I was influenced by vintage furnishings of the 20th century and by the sense of presence in grand, aristocratic decors. But I still want my designs to have a relaxed side and a sexy elegance that make them feel timeless.”
This fall, Baker introduced 25 new products of the Denoit line, including mahogany and brass case goods, upholstered bar stools and a Carrara, brass and bronze table lamp, among other pieces. Featuring exquisite details such as Murano crystal bubbles, the Silice table lamp is one of the highlights. Mounted on a polished brass base, it references a rock crystal obelisk, according to the designer. “My work is always about geometry and silhouette,” he says. “All these creations were designed to complement the existing collection. Some focused more on functionality, others are quite poetic; but all of them are intriguing and sculptural.”
In addition, Deniot continues to work on private properties and commercial projects across all continents. Among his most impressive realizations are a 30,000-square-foot palace in India—which took him five years—a 20,000-square-foot private home in Knightsbridge, London, a revamped original Paul Williams property in Beverly Hills, townhouses on New York’s Upper East Side, and Hotel Nolinski in Paris. “Our work deals with how a space is organized with an architectural approach, also in terms of furnishings, the selection of materials, forms and proportions in order to add elegance,” Deniot says. “The interiors we design emphasize substance, scale and light.”
Sensual curves and geometric symmetry, clean lines and organic energy, every space and piece of furniture created by Jean-Louis Deniot is an ode to the past with an eye toward the future.
Partners in both life and business, Ryan Brown and Diego Monchamp of L.A.-based Brown Design Group (browndesigninc.com) fell in love with a 1960’s Hollywood Hills home, purchased it from the original owner, and then remodeled it down to the studs.
Their intention? To work with its Mid-century architectural roots, but also to design a residence suitable to their family lifestyle by creating an indoor-outdoor flow, opening everything to views of the pool and surrounding hills. “We both have a strong affinity for clean, modern design,” says Brown. “We also entertain a lot and have a busy family life, so flow and layout are paramount.”Known for their casual, California approach to design, the pair began the remodel by incorporating 40 feet of sliding glass doors to the rear of the house to open it up to the pool and to serve as a great feature for entertaining. They raised the ceiling in the main living area, and infused the interiors with materials such as wood, tile and bronze; vintage lighting; and a mix of old and new furniture from favorite designers. They also used an all-white base color for the interior (Dunn Edwards’ Cool December) to spotlight their vibrant artwork and furnishings. “This being our home, we moved a lot of artwork and accessories that we had acquired over the years and that all have a story,” says Brown. “Our dining table is a solid, 14-foot teak table that we have had since we met and has lots of great memories attached. We like to be true to the architecture of our projects, and our own home was no exception. Keeping the interior clean and classic allowed us to use great pieces that really reflect us.”
While seeking a spot in Malibu to call home more than a decade ago, Chicago-based real estate entrepreneur Sean Conlon toured numerous properties and ultimately settled on one of the first places he viewed—an amazing Harry Gesner-designed house that he went on to salvage and restore from near ruins, keeping the architect’s outside signature design and transforming the interiors to serve as a true cathedral to the ocean, complete with soaring ceilings and glass windows opening to every level. “When compared against everything else I saw, I couldn’t pass up the energy that this home had,” says Conlon, chairman of CONLON & Co. (conlonandco.com) and host of CNBC’s The Deed: Chicago.
“It sits on some rocks at the top of Broad Beach perched above beautiful old Cypress trees, kind of like a treehouse on Big Sur. It is my escape from a mad-mad world!” Conlon infused his classic Old-World meets a modern twist style with Gesner’s bent toward nature by rebuilding original windows that inspired the Sydney Opera House to retain a portal to the ocean. He also employed natural stone and wide hand-scraped walnut flooring to maintain a warm, Zen feeling. Along the way, he added personal touches, including unique artwork and pieces collected while traveling such as beautiful old books, 2,000-year-old Greek statues and a 1500’s charcoal drawing once owned by David Bowie. “I would like to think the home reflects my personality, with lots of diversions for small, perfectly curated pieces and unique in style, but never losing sight of the fact that life is short and can be beautiful,” says Conlon. “My home never allows you to forget that; it’s all about the majestic unbridled power of the Pacific Ocean and the home’s purpose is to immerse you in that feeling.”
Upon setting out to design a modern residence in Pacific Palisades in 2010, husband-and-wife architects Mark Cigolle and Kim Coleman were intent on creating a meticulously executed home that would mesh the natural surroundings with cutting-edge technology and sustainability, all while using durable and adaptable materials. What emerged at 17455 Tramonto Drive is a brilliant orchestration of concrete, steel and glass that captures extraordinary ocean, mountain and city views from virtually every point in and around the three-level home. “In response to the truly incredible landscape and views, we wanted the architecture to sit quietly in the landscape,” says Coleman of CIGOLLE X COLEMAN, ARCHITECTS (cxcarch.com).
“The main living areas of the house are carved into the gentle slope of the site, with exterior walls made entirely of glass. Movement through the house was designed as a procession. At different moments, one may be more aware of the surrounding landscape—the ocean, mountains and sky—or interior spaces, some public and others private.” Now on the market for $11.5 million (listed by The Agency), the four-bedroom abode is designed around a series of platforms and containers that comingle to present an auto/sports court; studio/guest house; main indoor-outdoor living spaces; and a covered outdoor space/carport. Among the highlights: floating kitchen, dining and living areas; a master suite accessed by a central staircase topped by a massive skylight; a media room; and private garden and spa. “The house presents a series of places that are varied and dynamic, so that living and working are interchangeable,” says Coleman. “Walls slide out of the way, curtains subdivide or screen areas, and spaces transform to respond to climatic or programmatic changes.”
Scott Gillen has always had a passion for the creative process, first as a filmmaker and then as a custom builder, applying his hands to every facet of the process, from architecture to interior design. He crafted his first home on Abbot Kinney and then embarked upon a new Malibu property—The Carbon House—that he now resides in with his family. He designed and built the one-level, 6,800-square-foot residence on approximately 4 acres on Carbon Canyon Road, complete with his signature exposed beams, open spaces, soaring ceilings and custom furnishings throughout.
Massive windows on both sides of the 240-foot-long home allow for breathtaking ocean and mountain views from every room. Some of the show-stopping features include a massive great room with an open chef’s kitchen featuring custom ash wood cabinets and Wolf appliances; an ocean-view master suite with a private patio; a gym; and a media room.
“It’s a great house,” says Gillen of Scott Gillen UNVARNISHED (scottgillen.com). “It’s large, but very cozy and intimate at the same time. It’s got a beachy vibe…a good vibe.” What’s next for the developer in Malibu? Selling the newly completed 15,500-square-foot property—The New Castle—that just hit the market for $85 million. Plus, a new project—The Case—featuring five Mid-century modern homes atop a bluff in the guard-gated Malibu Colony community, set for completion in mid-2020.
Completed in 2010, L.A. architect Michael Kovac’s Sycamore House was one of the earliest LEED Platinum homes in California, with a design approach that was conscious of the many existing sycamore specimens on the property. “We have always incorporated environmentally sensitive design concepts and materials into our work, and this project was the perfect opportunity to really dive deeper into that and explore lots of new things,” says Kovac of Kovac Design Studio (kovacdesignstudio.com).
“We considered it our ‘green laboratory.’” Situated near the top of the Pacific Palisades at the edge of Santa Monica Canyon—with views of Downtown L.A., Will Rogers State Park and the San Gabriel Mountains—the modern home is rife with green systems, including solar photovoltaic power with battery backup; solar thermal hot water; radiant heating and cooling; gray water re-use; and rainwater capture. “Our favorite green features are passive, relying on the basic laws of nature,” Kovac says.
“For instance, the entire house is designed to maximize natural airflow and ventilation. There are windows on the lower level that pull the prevailing cool ocean breeze into the house and higher, clerestory windows that allow the warmer air inside the house to escape.” Materials inside the home also were chosen to be as maintenance-free and natural as possible, including walls finished with an artisan veneer plaster rather than paint, along with wood floors reclaimed from an 1800’s barn and a cement panel board exterior with a high recycled content.
“Everything feels warm and inviting to the touch, not cold or pretentious,” adds Kovac. Perhaps the most crowning achievement is a shadowy pattern of sycamore trees created by artist Jill Sykes that has been hand-blasted into the facade’s cement panels and offers an ever-changing dance with the real shadows cast by the surrounding sycamores.
Among his clientele of A-listers are Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian, Tommy Hilfiger and Ellen Pompeo, to name a few. But British-born, Los Angeles-based designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard is something of a celebrity too, having gained a reputation on the TV show Million Dollar Decorators before showing his mastery of a broad range of styles in many residential projects in Hollywood.
Located just below his studio, his recently opened showroom on Melrose Avenue—the Martyn Lawrence Bullard Atelier—offers a glimpse into a world of colors and patterns that reflect a true sense of audacity. “The first thing I do when I arrive at my studio is lighting one of my Signature Extraordinaire aromatic candles,” he says. “Then, all my senses are stimulated to start a creative day.”
Constantly traveling the world to discover new cultures and places, meet new people and visit museums, local markets and shops, Lawrence Bullard channels his adventurous spirit to design eclectic interior spaces and products (including furniture, fabrics, wallpaper, perfumes, jewels and fashion accessories). His motto, “live, love, decorate,” imbues everything he does. A collector of photographs, design books, watches, silverware and drawings—made with the Sanguina technique—Lawrence Bullard recharges his batteries both in his Mediterranean villa, situated in L.A.’s Whitley Heights neighborhood and furnished with antiques and contemporary artworks, and his weekend home in Palm Springs. Inspired by the mid-century aesthetic, the latter is decorated with Italian furniture from the 1960s and ‘70s and Pop Art pieces.
Lawrence Bullard always finds the way to honor every client’s decorative dream, designing comfortable yet stylish spaces, matching natural materials such as linen, velvet, cotton, silk, and wool with different types of lighting fixtures, custom-made pieces and furnishings from high-end boutiques and flea markets all over the planet. In addition to his residential portfolio, Lawrence Bullard also has designed several hospitality projects, including the new Hotel Californian in Santa Barbara featuring Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and modern Moorish-themed interiors. Thanks to
his eclectic flair, Lawrence Bullard masters the art of shaping bold yet inviting interiors.
Written by Karine Monie
That legendary American architect Philip Johnson was a religiously focused believer in modernism is something of an enduring fiction. He always thought in a modern fashion, but did not believe that modernism was the one and only way to practice architecture, and he’d break with convention, and the thinking of some contemporaries, to create a modern aesthetic that could accommodate historical elements—domes, colonnades, and columns.
Then again, Johnson was unusually brilliant, a visionary both of his time and before it, with an encyclopedic understanding of a great many things, from art to 18th- and 19th-century European gardens. He studied philosophy and classics at Harvard, traveled throughout Europe during the late 1920s, and met the central figures of modernist architecture: Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, and another of its disciples, Mies van der Rohe. As director of a new architecture department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Johnson co-authored The International Style, bringing Bauhaus practices to the American masses. He later returned to Harvard to study architecture, and followed Marcel Breuer’s lead to New Canaan, Connecticut, where land was plentiful, there was train access into Manhattan, and it was easier to register as an architect. Taken by the landscape, Johnson purchased five acres of 18th century farmland flanked by stone walls and designed the manifestation of an earlier interest—the Glass House.
A modernist in the countryside, especially one as erudite and urbane as Johnson, is not a complete contradiction. In fact not at all. Johnson was a native Midwesterner; his grandfather maintained a gentleman’s farm and he loved the idea of being in nature. So he situated the Glass House in a way that has more of a relationship to fellow Midwesterner Frank Lloyd Wright than the early period of modernism of which he is part: sort of nestled into a hill, with a lovely view of a manmade pond.
Most surprising about the structure to Hilary Lewis, chief curator and creative director of the Glass House, who spent 10 of her 25 years at the property working alongside Johnson, is just how much one place can change. How it shifts with the seasons, appearing different on a cloudy day than a sunny one. And just how much color actually exists in the minimalist masterpiece. The way its saddle-hued Barcelona chair, for example, turns coppery in streams of sunlight and the truly extraordinary expanse of green visible from every point. “Johnson used to joke that he had very expensive wallpaper,” says Lewis, referencing the extraordinary surroundings outside the transparent walls. “The whole point wasn’t to have some glass object; it was to be in nature. Johnson liked being surrounded by trees and greenery and seeing birds. He always had a home in Manhattan, but his place in Connecticut was where his heart was.”
Best comprehended as a porthole through which to view its magnificent setting, the just over 1,800-square-foot Glass House was completed in 1949 and maintains its initial design. It has very few things in it. Most of the furnishings, pulled from Johnson’s New York apartment, are Mies van der Rohe designs. The lone painting is a classical landscape from the 17th century attributed to Poussin. There is a fireplace for colder climes and centrally located doors in the middle of each glass wall that open the house up to nature. Opposite the Glass House is the Brick House, which is nearly completely enclosed save for skylights and circular forms referencing Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence. The Brick House shelters underground connecting mechanicals and support systems for both buildings. A green courtyard separates the structures, but they are two wings of the same house.
The Glass House, which is how Johnson referred to the entire property (now totaling 50 acres), is actually one of 14 total structures of various architectural styles on the grounds. Aside from the pavilions made of glass and brick is the glass-ceilinged Sculpture Gallery, built in 1970 and partially inspired by the islands of Greece with works from the likes of Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella, as well as the Studio, a workspace built in 1980 with 1,400 books on architecture. Particularly personal is the Painting Gallery, constructed in 1965, home to Johnson’s and his longtime partner David Whitney’s vast art collection, with works from Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman and Julian Schnabel. Johnson was as prolific an art collector—he met Kandinsky, he knew Klee—as he was a promoter of other architects, like Frank Gehry, with whom he was great friends and would see in L.A. en route to his house in Big Sur.
In letting the property evolve over time, Johnson expressed his diversity of tastes and willingness to not stay in one mode. “The different styles was his own form of consistency, as opposed to something that was in conflict,” explains Lewis. “To him, time would change, so styles would change. He had an appreciation for novelty and the newest developments. He kept up with what was happening in the world. It’s all Johnson’s interpretation of European Modern placed in the context of Connecticut.”
Prior to his death in 2005, Johnson endowed the National Trust for Historic Preservation with the Glass House, opening up his remarkable view to—and of—the world. TheGlassHouse.org
WRITTEN BY JENN THORNTON
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MICHAEL BIONDO
One thinks of a summer cottage in mostly quaint terms—a place of some modesty, wrapped in quiet, with a nice view. But in Newport, Rhode Island, once dubbed “The Eden of America” for its postcard locale, the “summer cottage” produces a far more elaborate picture of early American progress as seen through some of the country’s most celebrated mansions.
At the start of the 19th century, the once thriving mercantile port of Newport was settling into its new role as a refuge for American artists and Southern planters fleeing the summer heat. The conclusion of the Civil War brought economic reconstruction and industrialization to the country, and, to Newport specifically, those who profited from it. Lured by Newport’s setting and mild climes, some of the nation’s most prosperous families bankrolled stately “summer cottages” of diverse architectural origin within its beautiful environs, forming a heartland of a certain conceit, removed from sweltering cities thick with industry.
The boom years of large-scale buildings in Newport—1880 to 1914, the height of the Gilded Age—graced it with some 250 villas; showpieces of varying scale whose construction was motivated, at least in part, to “an unspoken desire to reinforce one’s station in the social order, or seniority within a family, by building on an ambitious scale,” says Paul F. Miller, curator of the Preservation Society of Newport County, which oversees 10 of the area’s most beloved mansions turned museums. But in balance, he notes, with a “conscious interest in fostering the patronage of American art and architecture.” This two-handed investment—in social capital and cultural sponsorship—produced a lasting architectural legacy.
This heritage is as vast as the square footage of Newport’s most famous mansions. Hunter House, a timber-framed Georgian built after 1749 for a prominent sea captain, was an auspicious start, with 8,000 square feet. The 19th century introduced the likes of Kingscote, a Gothic Revival shadowing the churches of Medieval Europe from 1841; Chateau-sur-Mer, a grand interpretation of Victorian era architecture erected in 1852; the Isaac Bell House, a Shingle Style jewel on Newport’s storied Bellevue Avenue from 1883; and Rosecliff, constructed in Classical Revival style with a glazed terracotta façade in 1902.
Most popular of all the Newport estates is The Breakers, a mammoth illustration of Italian Renaissance design built in 1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt and his wife. Tremendous in both riches and reach, the mansion, which sits on 13 acres and sprawls a tremendous 138,000 square feet, boasts touches of Greek and Roman architecture and a level of ornamentation favored by upper-crust tastes of the time. The only rival to The Breakers in any contest of size is The Elms, a 1899-1901 reinterpretation of an 18th-century French chateau—but just slightly, and only in percentage of land, 13.5 acres.
The Newport Mansions, says Miller, “represent in the history of American domestic architecture a search for a national style, ranging from the Georgian-inspired architecture of the Colonial period to the internationalism of the historical styles represented by Beaux Arts architecture, and are the result of a collaboration between the most important architects and patrons in the nation at that time.” As museums, their holdings include a wide spectrum of possessions and collectibles, while also reflecting how their individual inhabitants perceived themselves. Ambitious, certainly, if not a good deal self-important, but also dedicated patrons of fine design.
The architecture also mirrors its particular period: in chronological style, interior floor-plan and, notes Miller, “in the way in which the house embraces its setting, with the wraparound wooden verandas of the early houses giving way to the imposing masonry terraces of the Gilded Age villas; in the way in which the service areas operate and are laid out, with a move towards ever more efficient and discrete service; in the volume and layout of furnishings and objects; and in the incorporation of the latest marvels of technology, from early interior baths to the introduction of elevators.”
The end of the Great War saw Newport’s popularity decline. The new income tax caused a lag in extravagance and expenditures, and newer, accessible resorts were on the rise. A number of Newport County mansions were demolished; others were transformed into educational institutions, condominiums, or museums. Many are still occupied as seasonal, single-family residences.
Taking in Newport as a whole, one cannot escape the irony: a colony of historic homes, all invaluable to the American story, built from the vast fortunes of the privileged few, but inherited and enjoyed by all.
WRITTEN BY JENN THORNTON
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE PRESERVATION SOCIETY OF NEWPORT COUNTY
He looked at the site and saw it: a house emerging from the hillside, its peninsular planes seemingly suspended and staggered downward to emulate the stony cliff over which rushes a surge of mountain stream. The elevations, the geometry, the complexities, he saw it all. A vision that only a true visionary possibly could.
But Frank Lloyd Wright, well into his sixties at the time, produced nothing tangible for nine months thereafter. Everything was in his head. The commission, he knew, had the potential to reignite his career, one that he began when America still turned to horses for transport. And here it was, 1934, the Great Depression, with Wright in the wilderness of his professional life, having completed just a handful of commissions in the last 10 years. Many wondered if Louis Sullivan’s protégé, who helped pioneer the Prairie School and designed both the Unity Temple and the Robie House, was all washed up.
Not Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann, however, who commissioned Wright to design for them a weekend home on a wooded site in the mountains of western Pennsylvania. Prosperous department store owners, they were a good match for Wright in every way, both worldly, with operations in Pittsburgh and an office in Paris. Kaufmann was a larger-than-life character who loved big ideas and interesting people. His wife was a woman of great taste and an exceptional eye; she was devoted to beauty and ran a specialty shop with an international selection of haute couture on the 11th floor of the Kaufmanns’ department store. They also shared the architect’s love of nature and appreciated his honest expression of materials and form. They showed Wright the site, then waited.
Myth often has it that Wright conjured the design for Fallingwater almost from thin air. But three of his apprentices—witnesses to the following events—told it somewhat differently. Kaufmann, in an effort to get something out of Wright, made a series of calls to Taliesin, Wright’s home in Wisconsin, telling the architect he was en route to see the plans. On the day Kaufmann was to arrive, “Wright finished breakfast and went into the drafting room with his apprentices around him,” relays Lynda Waggoner, director of Fallingwater since 1996, who knew each apprentice. “They said all they could do was sharpen pencils. But because Wright had this incredible ability to design things in his head, I’m sure that during that nine-month gestation period he thought through the night, did a little sketch here and there, so that by the time Kaufmann arrived to see the preliminary sketches, he just drew it all out.” In an unpublished essay Kaufmann later wrote for an exhibition at Fallingwater, he confessed to not fully seeing the house at this stage.
Which might explain the surprise the Kaufmanns felt when they realized that Wright’s final plans did to not include a view of the site’s natural wonder, which they loved and clearly expected to see from the house. A terrific salesman, Wright reminded the Kaufmanns that the waterfall had always been a destination point for them on the site. They had picnicked there and watched the falls. His plan would help retain that sense of destination. Because if they were always looking at the falls, he explained, it would become commonplace. Wright would have his way.
In 1938, after a few rough patches, Wright realized what is an ingenious configuration of structure and site that exposed the depth of his unorthodoxy and architectural gifts. Fallingwater had traces of his earlier work (the cantilever, taken to its absolute limit with this project, and concrete, a modern material he used early in his career), but was unlike any building he’d ever done—the very model of organic architecture, which for him meant the merging of architecture and nature. “But it’s more than that,” Waggoner explains. “It’s a principle; a holistic view of the world that man has a place in nature . . . Wright believed that there should be as many styles of buildings as there are types of people, and they should be individualistic.”
Accordingly, Fallingwater stands alone. With its exaggerated planes of reinforced concrete and bands of steel-framed windows, the house is best understood as a response to what the architects of the International Style were doing. It is exceedingly geometric and horizontal, characteristic of that style, but with a humanity often lacking in the buildings it produced. It was all Wright: singular, suited to his client, and of both the times and the spirit of the place.
Fallingwater offers a contrast of experiences and juxtapositions—light and dark, danger and safety, smooth concrete and rough stone—that give it a wonderful richness. Passing through the front door, which is hidden between two walls, is a bit like entering a cave, sheltered and safe, but glance diagonally to the opposite end of the room and the outstretched terrace beyond and it’s open and bright. The exposure conveys a sense of danger that one has when looking at Fallingwater from a distance, its serrated arrangement appearing unanchored.
Like the Kaufmanns, one expects to see the waterfall, but doesn’t, not for a long time, by design. “Wright was really smart in his sense that we all have a final impression of something—so he saved it for the very end, so that the waterfall would be the final memory one has of the house and not overshadow the experience of it,” Waggoner explains. “Because when you go through the house, it is very intimate, like a meander through the woods. You go around corners and things open up and close down. It’s dark and light. You walk the terraces. Then, when you go down to see the actual view of the waterfall, you think, this is just incredible, because you have come to understand the house. So he knew exactly what he was doing when he designed it.”
Fallingwater reestablished Wright’s place in architecture, exactly as he hoped. He appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine with the house behind him and, at age 67, embarked on the most prolific period of his career, completing the Johnson Wax Building, the Guggenheim and many more buildings. Mostly, though, Fallingwater exemplified what Wright spent his entire career trying to create: a distinctly American architecture. It has all the features of this vernacular—a connection to the setting in a way that blends the two together; an open plan; the geometrizing of elements; a play with interior volume; and unity through a limited palette of materials—to touch something deep within us that Wright understood intuitively: the desire to reclaim our place in the natural world.
“That’s what Fallingwater does for us,” Waggoner says. “It’s the physical demonstration of what freedom is about. It teaches and amazes. I think that’s the testament of a masterpiece.” fallingwater.org
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA CONSERVANCY
“We favor the strategic over the thematic, the cosmopolitan over the typological, and the atmospheric over the static. Ever-focused on the contemporary, we take diligent note of the past while day-dreaming the future.” This is how Rafael de Cárdenas, founder of Architecture at Large, describes his work.
Before taking the plunge into architecture in 2006, de Cárdenas started his career as a menswear designer at Calvin Klein, then became a creative director at the special effects production house Imaginary Forces—two experiences that forged his aesthetic.
In his words, de Cárdenas is “interested in culture at large—fashion, cinema, music, art—and how quickly those things change and evolve.” He draws inspiration from eclectic references to design conceptual, artful and sculptural spaces. His just-released book, Rafael de Cárdenas/Architecture at Large: RDC/AAL (Rizzoli), features some of his most iconic projects. With its mirror-lined walls and malachite trompe-l’oeil, the Delfina Delettrez boutique in London is at once glamorous and intimate, elegant and exuberant. The two-story fritted glass façade, patterned with triangular arrays of Baccarat’s flagship in New York City, catches the eyes of passersby, inviting them to discover a space where black granite, crystal chandeliers, niches of white gold leaf and diamond-motif details in the wood flooring evoke the preciousness of all items on display. In Saint Petersburg, Russia, Au Pont Rouge department store is nestled in a historic building while inside, a contemporary look and concept prevail.
For private projects, de Cárdenas starts his creative process by writing a fantasy script where he imagines the client’s ideal lifestyle. “Then as the project gets more real, the fantasy aspect is embedded in the design’s DNA,” he says. An admirer of Dutch contemporary architect Rem Koolhaas and Austrian modernist architect Adolf Loos, de Cárdenas also sees travel and new experiences as ways to stay creative, explaining, “You have to get out of your comfort zone.”
Splitting their time between New York City and Toronto, Ontario natives George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg have conquered the world. Hotels, retail, restaurants, residences, and furniture are all among their practice’s vast array of projects. “Dedicated to delivering the unexpected”—as announced on their website—Yabu and Pushelberg strive to evoke emotions from those who use or view their work, and they are always looking for the perfect visual formula that contains a bit of complexity, but in a simple way.
Of late, Yabu Pushelberg has been active in hospitality, completing a number of high-profile projects. Last May, the firm revealed its first hotel in Thailand’s capital. Situated in the heart of the business district, Park Hyatt Bangkok reflects a sense of calm in a stylish environment where a series of intimate spaces feature beautiful works of art. Every detail was chosen to honor the country’s rich culture and create an atmosphere reminiscent of a refined private residence. In California’s Napa Valley, Yabu Pushelberg designed newly opened luxury hotel Las Alcobas to feel like home. Located in the charming small town of St. Helena, the property, which is spread over three acres, offers stunning views of the vineyards. Furnished with custom pieces, the hotel’s 68 rooms have clean lines and finishes, natural tones and organic materials, resulting in a relaxing yet elegant feel. The firm’s latest hospitality project is the recently inaugurated, Moxy Times Square, which has the largest rooftop in New York City (at 10,000 square feet) with breathtaking skyline views. Its social spaces are ideal for either co-working or relaxing, while the 612 bedrooms—the smallest ones, in particular, which are 120 square feet—were inspired by the idea of urban camping.
The creative spirit of Yabu Pushelberg continues to evolve and grow through the constant experimentation with materials and collaborations with artisans and artists, resulting in spaces that exude understated sophistication.
Written by Karine Monie