Frank Gehry’s shiny, sculptural structures, almost more art than buildings, are formidable. But his work at 600 E. Rustic Road showcases another side of the lauded architect. Formerly known as the Whitney House, designed by the architect in 1978, built in 1981, and subsequently reimagined by Mark Mack, it’s a playful, inviting and elegant home in a secluded setting situated to take full advantage of Los Angeles’ every amenity.
Of course, it takes more than pedigree to transform a house into a home. As Gehry himself explained it, “Architecture is a small piece of this human equation, but for those of us who practice it, we believe in its potential to make a difference, to enlighten and to enrich the human experience, to penetrate the barriers of misunderstanding and provide a beautiful context for life’s drama.”
A manifestation of this philosophy, this property weaves together the virtues of an impeccable location, a breathtaking backdrop and a warm, sophisticated design that unites two distinct contemporary structures linked by the circular motor court—a 5,164 square-foot modern, smooth-stuccoed main residence and its complement, a 2,000 square-foot standalone midcentury guest house—into one radiant whole. The result is the definition of what living in Los Angeles is all about.
First is location. Just moments off Pacific Coast Highway, the home is well situated for enjoying all the perks, pleasures and conveniences of city living. The J. Paul Getty Museum, the beaches of Malibu, the elegant shopping and fine dining of Santa Monica, and the family-friendly vibe of Pacific Palisades (including the new show-stopping Palisades Village) are all moments away.
Sunset Boulevard’s undulating curves and the beauty of tree-lined San Vicente fill drives to nearby Brentwood and Westwood with unexpected pleasure. There’s plenty to do within a short walk as well. In fact, two of the city’s most famed spots—Patrick’s Roadhouse for breakfast and Giorgio Baldi for dinner—are nearby.
One can expect to work off all manner of indulgences with a beachside bike ride along the Pacific or a heart-pumping climb up the Santa Monica steps. Next up, setting. Located at the base of the Santa Monica mountains, Rustic Canyon’s old-growth trees and lush vegetation drenches the area with a soothing climate that’s in sharp contrast to the rest of the city.
In creating this home, Gehry exploited the landscape, sculpting it for maximum enjoyment. There’s an outdoor cinema with a built-in projector, a large grassy lawn with a long heated lap pool and spa, a meditation platform nestled into the hillside, and a putting green created by the designer behind the Riviera Country Club’s award-winning golf course. Outdoor fireplaces, a fire-pit lounge, spaces for napping or reading as well as for dining, and multiple decks punctuate the flow of indoors to out.
Blanketing all assets is a feeling of safety and seclusion, an aura that is underscored by the home’s location behind gates, with a
“…this property weaves together the virtues of an impeccable location, a breathtaking backdrop and a warm, sophisticated design that unites two distinct contemporary structures…”
long driveway shielding the residence from the view of neighboring homes. The rhythmic flow of a nearby creek is another barrier against the intrusion of the outside world. The final jewel in the crown of this spectacular property is its two homes.
A tranquil courtyard bestows a quiet mysticism on the main home, an impression confirmed by its interior featuring vaulted skylights and expansive windows that bathe the core rooms in natural light. Soaring exposed beam ceilings, polished concrete floors and a two-story gallery emphasize the transcendent effect. Even the kitchen rises above utilitarian. Here, French doors turn the galley-style space into a haven, elevated by Wolf and Miele appliances and a large, eat-in marble center island.
One of the main space’s more remarkable features is its ability to morph from private to public and back with ease, providing both an intimate background for everyday living and an elegant and gracious environment for large-scale entertaining. Take, as one example, the industrial-style, sliding wall that separates the open dining room from the kitchen. Closed, it capably hides the intricate maneuverings of a private chef; open, it fosters an easy flow.
Upstairs, the trio of en-suite bedrooms, one with a private deck overlooking the creek, reinforces the feeling of peace and tranquility that pervades this home. Certainly, it’s in the sanctuary of the two-story master suite. Showcasing hardwood floors, a private wood deck, and an expansive dressing room, the space is capped off by an upper-floor bathing spa, surrounded by a clever combination of windows and mirrors that immerse the space in the sights and sounds of the canyon. Here is where stress evaporates.
The standalone, two-bedroom, three-bath guest house, meanwhile, with its spacious living room, full kitchen and wraparound deck, is similarly aware of its magnificent setting. Offering guests the holy grail of autonomy, the space grants a small glimpse into a lifestyle where access and privacy are the twin pillars of luxury, available to only a privileged few. Call it divine design. The feeling is heavenly.
REAL ESTATE | 600 E. RUSTIC ROAD
CINDY AMBUEHL & BLAIR CHANG
OF THE AGENCY
LIST PRICE $18.5 MILLION
PHOTOGRAPHS BY SIMON BERLYN
Created for filmmaker John Whitney in 1978 by Pritzker Prize-winning L.A. architect Frank Gehry—known for his bold, artistic architectural features and unusual shapes (think Walt Disney Concert Hall)—this once-fragmented and somewhat unconventional Santa Monica compound has since been transformed into a more “realistic” living environment by architect Mark Mack.
Formerly three separate, distinct structures, the fully reimagined and expanded residence now boasts a stunning duo of contemporary and functional spaces interconnected via bridges, stairs and walkways…all built on the foundation of the past.
“Architecture is a small piece of this human equation, but for those of us who practice it, we believe in its potential to make a difference, to enlighten and to enrich the human experience, to penetrate the barriers of misunderstanding and provide a beautiful context for life’s drama.” -Frank Gehry
“It was originally designed by one of the most prolific architects, Frank Gehry, and then Mark Mack’s redesign makes it a one-of-a-kind,” says Cindy Ambuehl, who is co-listing the home with Blair Chang, both of The Agency, for $18.5 million. “It is unlike anything else on the market or ever built.”
Nestled on a large secluded and gated parcel of land at 600 E. Rustic Road—in Santa Monica’s coveted Rustic Canyon, with convenient access to the beach and numerous shopping and dining options—the Whitney residence originally sported a stucco garage/studio, concrete block living/dining room and plywood-paneled, two-story master suite. Today, the complex features a new wing with a guest house, gym, and garage, as well as a circular motor court at the end of a long driveway, unifying the structures.
Expect a multi-level main house offering 5,000-plus square feet of open and naturally lit living space with four bedrooms (most notably, a spacious master suite with a spa-like bath and a large deck overlooking the lushly landscaped grounds and a creek), as well as five-and-a-half baths, and a professional chef’s kitchen with marble countertops, Wolf appliances, and a center island ideal for dining and entertaining.
Outdoors is a heated pool and spa, along with a movie projector and two seating areas with fireplaces. An adjacent 2,000-square-foot, two-story guest house offers a duo of bedrooms, three baths, a full kitchen and balcony on the top floor, plus a gym and garage on the lower level, and a putting green just outside.
CINDY AMBUEHL & BLAIR CHANG
OF THE AGENCY LIST PRICE
PHOTOGRAPHS: SIMON BERLYN
Written by Jenn Thornton
Architect Christopher Mercier, AIA, wasn’t always the man with a master plan. As a teenager in his native Detroit, he wrestled with the future. A painter, Mercier leaned toward a career in the arts, but was pragmatic enough to consider the bigger picture while still in high school. “I thought, if I become an artist, there’s only so many things I can do, but if I become an architect, I can still do art.” At the intersection of profession and passion was Mercier’s métier.
After completing his undergraduate studies, Mercier went on to a progressive architecture program in Italy (under a then lesser-known architect Daniel Libeskind), a master’s degree at SCI-Arc and, in the most glaring endorsement of his talent, a spot at Gehry Partners, his place of employment for 10 years, until he departed the dream post in 2002 to establish his own architectural practice, with a modicum of trepidation at the time.
“I mean, it’s hard to leave that,” Mercier admits. “You’re working on these incredible projects, all over the world, and with great teams of people. It’s just a really hard thing to move away from.” When he did, Mercier met the full gravity of his decision. “I went from working on the biodiversity museum in Panama [Biomuseo] to literally designing bathrooms and closets,” he says, laughing. “It was humbling and crushing.” In those early but ultimately edifying days, even name-dropping
“Frank Gehry” into conversation didn’t prove particularly pivotal. “Most of my clients at the time didn’t know who he was,” says Mercier.
“I thought, what did I do? I’ve got to go back. But you learn quickly how to hustle, how to get work, how to make connections.” Today, Mercier’s gamble is L.A.’s gain. Informed by the principles Form, Environment, Research, his (fer) studio, located in an artist compound in Inglewood, is both full-service and fertile.
In conceptualizing modern spaces for creative clients, the studio’s architectural solutions are environmentally sensitive, heavily (but not solely) adaptive reuse, and across multiple sectors.
Its designed residences in communities such as Venice Beach, Santa Monica and the Hollywood Hills; commercial projects including Smashbox Studios in Culver City, a lobby and reception area for Hana Financial in DTLA, and restaurants Father’s Office, Connie and Ted’s and Downtown newcomer, Officine Brera, a modern Italian restaurant set in a 1920’s industrial warehouse.
Also completed is The Hayden, a 30,000-square-foot creative office adaptive reuse project in the Hayden Tract of Culver City.
Currently in development is a new public plaza behind The Broad, a temporary space that will connect to Otium Restaurant; the new pedestrian bridge at 2nd/Hope Station that will link the stopover to The Broad by way of its plaza; and the large-scale Cedros Market, a 100,000-square-foot retail, restaurant and office solution space in Solana Beach meant to accommodate expected growth in transit ridership while maintaining the community’s character.
Given Mercier’s background as an artist, his engagement with creative spaces is a logical focus, as is being a vital part of the urban renewal in Inglewood. Among his involvements here are painting art murals with at-risk youth, one can be found at Roger’s Park. “We’ve made a lot of efforts to work with the city,” Mercier says. “You want to engage with the community as much as you can, and give back.”
With a full docket of projects, Mercier is giving plenty these days, including painting regularly in his art studio and playing hockey with former colleagues at Gehry Partners.
“It’s how you progress as an architect,” he says. “You’re always thinking about the next big thing.”