Written by Constance Dunn | Photography Courtesy of Paul Jonason
A Modernist L.A. Complex Thoughtfully Meshes Work and Play with Creativity and Everyday Learning
“Balance” is an elusive goal sought by most these days. One seeks to balance their personal and family life with their career aspirations and social desires; to find that perfect intersection where personal creativity meets the demands of daily life. If home is the stage where work, family, love and more are organized, then one should ideally have the right design for the job. Such is the case of a Modernist residence tucked into a residential street in West Los Angeles—a three-story compound just a few blocks west of the Sawtelle strip that overlooks a peaceful acre of green gardens.
The MÜ/SH Residence
Named the MÜ/SH Residence for its owners and originators, Los Angeles artists Manfred Muller and Rose Shoshana, the property was built as a stage where the two could twine their domestic, work and social lives. Better yet, it was designed as a place where these realms would mutually influence and inspire each other. “The house is not for everybody,” states realtor Christina Hildebrand of Crosby Doe Associates. “For some it will be perfect. It’s for creatives who want a live/work space—and love entertaining.”
The MÜ/SH Residence was designed by Studio 0.10 (now LAB+ and helmed by Studio 0.10 co-founder Andrew Liang), and done so in collaboration with Muller and Shoshana. Completed in 2008 and over 5,000 square feet, the home consists of a three-story main residential structure. Across the courtyard is a separate two-story structure with a spacious, sunlit studio and gallery as well as a smart one-bedroom apartment with a private entrance and yard. For architect Liang, neatly unifying these distinct components within the L.A.-sized property was key. When asked about a favorite challenge in designing the home, he says, “Fitting in the various program requirements without taking over the entire lot. Separating out the studio work space from the main house and adding in a fully self-functioning ‘live-in’ unit.”
The home is listed by Crosby Doe Associates, an L.A. real estate firm whose specialty is architectural real estate, and whose sale list reads like a Who’s Who of architecture— there are Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra homes, along with those by John Lautner, Frank Gehry and more.
Flexible Yet Specific
From first gaze, the 3-bedroom, 5-bathroom residence is striking, its boxy Modernist silhouettes rising from the low-lying rooftops and mellow green garden of its neighbors. The oversized windows and the home’s central staircase—visible to the exterior, and tucked behind glass—have all been meticulously placed. “It has an openness to every side,” says Muller of the design, “and it frames the environment.” As a result, the home is filled with a gentle rotation of glowing sunlight, and the windows, framed in smooth Brazilian ipe, serve as picturesque structures to the outdoors, nearly all with views of trees, garden and sky. “For in-fill lots, expansive outward views are typically rare,” notes Liang, “but the wrap-around circulation that ‘rings’ the main house really offers a unique and engaging experience with the surrounding neighborhood.”
This, combined with a palette of pure white against wood—more nutty-hued Brazilian ipe, which Muller lauds for its low-maintenance durability, particularly in the face of sunlight—and a sophisticated, open floor plan challenges the idea that one’s in the middle of a bustling metropolis. “The most important thing is that we find a way to express ourselves in a quiet way,” says Muller, who adds, “and it’s a beautiful party house.”
The ground floor is home to the main lounging, dining and kitchen spaces, which open to a covered, open-air space on one side (realtor Christina Hildebrand points to its dimensions and placement as ideal for a swimming pool). On the other side there’s an open courtyard that bridges the two structures.
The openness of the plan, and the way it unfolds as a gallery of changing atmospheres is a boon for social gatherings, just as it works as a perpetual exhibition space for artists. “It’s a very specific house,” says Hildebrand, “but it’s flexible at the same time.”
Balancing an Inner and Outer Life
Walls are hung with sculpture, paintings and drawings. Custom wood nooks are stacked with books and even colorful shoes are placed neatly along the path. “We are always using the space as an exhibition space,” says Muller. In order to accommodate the heft of weighty sculptures and canvases, the interior walls have been reinforced with an added layer of plywood.
“I can hang here a 300-kilogram [660-pound] piece of artwork here,” adds Muller, tapping the wall. For the designers, presenting the residence as a continuous exhibition space was accomplished by viewing it as a continuous thread—thematically and functionally—throughout the home.
On the third level, the thread culminates in master living quarters that own the entire floor, complete with a spacious bathroom suite and a bedroom with a cleverly hidden walk-in closet and storage.
A standout point of what Liang refers to as the home’s “wrap-around circulation” occurs on the second floor, which houses Muller’s office and workspace, as well as a guest suite. The spatial layout is distinctive yet comfortable; rooms are open to each other on a circular, fluid arrangement, and walls serve to define the space rather than enclose it. Only a glass door with no door, for instance, contains the guest suite. “We didn’t find it attractive to close it up with a door. Whoever lives with us is a part of this community,” says Muller with a chuckle.
The main structure is timber and steel construction, completed by William Koh and Associates, structural engineers for ambitious architectural projects like Belzberg Architects’ Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and artist John Baldessari’s Venice home, designed by Frank Gehry. “It was an expensive thing,” says Muller, “but we wanted to make sure if we had a 6.8 or 7.0 earthquake we would survive.”
The exterior is clad in zinc, giving the twin structures an elegant no-nonsense look while allowing for superior durability. (Zinc is lauded for being low-maintenance and long-lasting, along with being particularly resistant to corrosion.) “When you are in Paris, everything is zinc,” says Muller. “You see that grayish metal finish, handcrafted and beautifully done. The material is so sturdy. On this home we used a pre-weathered zinc from Germany, where I come from, the Rhineland.”
Conceived as a work of art to house one’s most valuable creation, their life, the artists who brought the MÜ/SH Residence into being spared no expense in either its construction or the thoughtful purposefulness of its design. “I don’t see a difference between sculpture and architecture,” Muller told the Los Angeles Times in 2005. “A house works because there’s an inside life and an outside life.
That’s actually what architecture is about, isn’t it, and that’s also how I see contemporary sculpture— balancing an inner and outer life.”
Presented by Christina Hildebrand of Crosby Doe Associates
List Price $3,500,000