June 26, 2015
The entryway of the Lautner house is a dramatic rotunda with locally sourced granite floors and satinwood paneling. A dramatic photo of Kelly Lynch on the red carpet covers one wall
Mitch Glazerâ€™s office is filled with family photos and mementos. A George Nelson Ball Clock adorns the wall
Dramatic rock monoliths hover over the rear entry of the Oyler house
Neutra used aluminum grids to frame the glass panels that look out over the high desert
Kelly Lynch and Mitch Glazer
The view from the Eastern elevation of the Lautner house
Barcelona chairs by Mies van der Rohe and a George Nelson sofa
|In 1994 the couple purchsed and restored the Harvey house by architect John Lautner. The circular geometries of the house afford panoramic views of the Hollywood Hills. The home is furnished with a magnificent collection of midcentury furniture|
Kelly Lynch and Mitch Glazer were way, way ahead of the Hollywood curve in 1992 when the actress and screenwriter bought a desert house designed by Richard Neutra, set among the boulders of Lone Pine, where old-time Westerns were once filmed. Six years later, they saw through the stucco additions smothering a spectacular house by John Lautner in the then unfashionable Los Feliz hills, and snapped it up, complete with a view of the hollywood sign that could be glimpsed through the palms.
And if the striking blonde actress (Drugstore Cowboy, Charlie’s Angels, Three of Hearts) and the brainy writer (Scrooged, Great Expectations, Three of Hearts) weren’t fabulous enough just walking through the door of a restaurant, two Midcentury Modern houses from the golden age of Southern California architecture amped up their aura. At the time, the couple helped set a trend: smart, glassy, indoor/outdoor houses with a pedigree became cool. Owning a specimen Midcentury Modern house was a badge of taste and discrimination in a house-oriented culture where people entertain around the privacy of their pools. Cars were no longer the defining status symbol. Architecture was an art form.
But Lynch and Glazer didn’t do it for the PR. It was love at first chair. Before the two houses, his first birthday gift to her was an Italian Techno chair from the 1950s—a sleek, all-black takeoff on an airplane seat, adjustable to about 50 positions. “I couldn’t believe how cool he was,” Lynch remembers. “That cinched it for me.” After they married in 1992, an Eames compact sofa, the Hans Wegner Papa Bear chair, a Ludwig Mies van der Rohe coffee table, and several George Nelson benches followed them across the threshold. “We hit all the Midcentury furniture stores,” he says. “Our tastes were completely in sync.”
But then legendary Los Angeles realtor Crosby Doe Associates—an evangelist of the postwar period—suggested they drive up to Lone Pine in the Owens Valley to scope out the Neutra house. The couple bought the house instantly—”It was completely nuts,” says Glazer. The backstory is that they had been prepared for this moment since childhood. Growing up, Lynch wanted to be an architect. “I was attracted to the California lifestyle that I saw in Julius Shulman photographs,” she recalls. “His photos sold it to me—to have a boulder right next to your house as a part of the wall. My family lived in a traditional Victorian home and I kept on trying to ‘modern’ my room up, painting everything one color, taking curtains down, putting a single flower in a vase.”
Glazer was raised in Miami Beach, the son of the electrical engineer who did all the special lighting effects for Morris Lapidus’s over-the-top glamour hotels. “We lived in a post-and-beam house, and a Neutra feels to me like a Cape Cod,” he says. “It’s like home, cozy and comfortable.”
But the two were novices at restoration, and they waded in cautiously. “We started by taking away,” says Glazer. The long, low, three-bedroom house, straight as a yardstick and barely more than a pavilion, turned out to be remarkably intact: “The desert preserved the structure,” he says. Even the appliances—the old Westinghouse cooktop had dials that looked like the dashboard of a ‘50s Buick—were still in place in a kitchen built around an island.
Today, the house serves up the desert through plate-glass views overlooking an outcropping of 90-foot-tall boulders. “That early Modernist utopian ideal, to live simply with simple materials, really feels right here,” says Glazer, who doesn’t own the house as a trophy but lives in it as a lesson in fundamentals. “The TV isn’t on much. We fish, we hike, and we sit and watch the rocks change color.”
Their weekend retreat and preservation hobby turned out to be just a warm-up for a much more demanding house they finally found in Los Angeles. By now a junkie for Midcentury architecture, Glazer haunted the Sunday real estate ads and chanced on a squib mentioning a house by architect John Lautner, an acolyte of Frank Lloyd Wright. The couple soon found themselves winding up the hairpin turns of the Los Feliz hills, parking in front of a structure obscured with tract-house additions, cottage-cheese ceilings, and shag carpets.
“My mother and my manager said we were out of our minds, that this house is crazy, why would you do this, who wants to live in Los Feliz? But Mitch and I could see through all of the sheetrock, and we knew it was a gem.” Leonardo DiCaprio was also bidding. The couple upped their offer, holding their breath. “It cost much more money to buy, and more work to restore than we could possibly imagine,” she says. “But we decided we’d make it beautiful again, even if it meant camping out in the bedrooms.”
Today, they occupy the house that Lautner intended—a brilliant spray of beams within circular geometries plays toward the 270-degree view. Unlike Neutra’s more austere, machine-inspired house (he painted wood to look like metal), Lautner designed a more organic house featuring natural woods and stone—satinwood, padauk, bleached mahogany, and green and pink marble. Glazer and Lynch resisted the temptation to modernize with features like frameless windows and up-to-the-nanosecond lighting fixtures. “We liked the original look, and the patina,” says Glazer.
Sitting at the edge of a Florence Knoll Bassett couch in front of architecture books piled on an Isamu Noguchi coffee table, the couple recounts the war stories—the search for the right linoleum and period faucets—during the year that Lynch took off from her career to restore the house. Their enthusiasm is contagious: Citing chapter and verse from the tomes, they sound like scholars on a date at a convention of architectural historians. Learning on the job, they emerged not only as restoration specialists but also as experts with a broader view of Southern California’s extraordinary architectural history. Glazer, who works in a dramatic, paneled office that Lynch calls the Howard Roark room, has written on Neutra and his brilliant contemporary, R.M. Schindler.
Displaying a modesty remarkable in these parts, Lynch and Glazer have left no fingerprints. “We wanted to restore, not renovate,” he says. “Last-minute fixes for plot or structure usually aren’t as organic as the original.”
“We wanted this place to look as though it had always been cared for,” she adds. “Some houses are works of art—why not just let them stand?”
Post-renovation, are they now living in the happily ever after. “We’re not looking to sell,” she affirms. “We’re looking at these houses for our lifetime. And it’s an ongoing process. It’s not like you restore the house, and you’re done. It’s not like going to the gym and just putting on a bathing suit and the exercising is over. You have to keep at it, which means taking care of the wood, updating the plumbing, finding the right water tank for a ’50s toilet. Things keep on popping up.”
Currently, the couple has embarked on the landscaping. At a preservation workshop, a Berkeley archivist brought the original landscape plans by the legendary Garrett Eckbo to their attention, and with landscape architect Michael Boyd, Lynch and Glazer are re-establishing the outlines of the garden, using plant materials suited to the house, the climate, and the original vision. “The landscaping is almost as much work as the architectural restoration,” she says. “It’s very time consuming and challenging. The whole property is almost two acres, a lot of it on the hillsides.”
Flipping the houses to make money is the last thing on their minds. “The most exciting thing is to live in these homes,” she says. “They continue to inspire us. It’s impossible not to feel good and have fun here, whether you’re solo and having a contemplative moment, or giving a party for 400 people. The glass walls connect you to the weather, the palms, and the clear sky every moment, all day long. It’s very inspiring, relaxing, and serene. The houses have changed our lives,”
Lately, the couple is splitting their time between Los Angeles and Miami, where they are working on Magic City, a new television series airing in 2012, produced and written by Glazer and starring Lynch. Set in 1959 Miami, around the time Castro took over Cuba, the series centers around a beautiful Miami hotel called the Miramar Playa. Off the set, the couple have found themselves living in a comfortable condo, uncomfortably. “There’s nothing to do, nothing to fix,” she says. “Everything is white and brand new, and it feels like you have to slash your wrist to get some color. But we’re eyeing a house in Miami, a 1930s Moderne that needs some restoration. It’s another era that we love. If the series get renewed, we might just spring for it.”
photograph by s granitz/getty images (lynch)