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The Case Study House That Wasn't

Despite Differences Between Neutra and Early Owners, It Survives as an Example of the Mid-Century Vision

January 17, 1999|Barbara Thornburg

"It's like inhabiting a piece of history for a while," says film and TV producer Richard Waltzer of the Richard Neutra home he shares with his wife, interior designer Kathryn Waltzer. The handsome glass and wood post-and-beam house was one of five built in Pacific Palisades, on a bluff overlooking the ocean, as part of Art & Architecture magazine's Case Study Program. Sponsored by editor and publisher John Entenza in 1945, the residential design experiment was intended to create modern, affordable homes that could be models for middle-class housing.

But the story of Case Study House 19 is slightly more complicated. Shortly after it was completed in 1952 for Warner Bros. executive Milton Scott and his wife, the house was traded to another couple for a parcel of land in Malibu. "The new owners wanted to add molding around the windows and doors to 'warm up the design' and 'soften the lines,' " says Kathryn Waltzer, who tracked down the former owners to find out more about the house. "The wife also complained that both the dining room and kitchen were too small." At some point after the interior redwood paneling was painted pink, Neutra turned his back on the project, stripping the house of its Case Study designation.

By the time the Waltzers bought the house in 1994, it had been through five owners and several tenants and was in need of "some TLC," says Waltzer. She and her husband had window frames and gutters repaired, screens added and the painted redwood replaced. "We wanted to make it look as close to the original as possible," she explains. Fortunately, Neutra's floor-to-ceiling glass, open plan and emphasis on indoor/outdoor living remained intact. In a nod to Neutra, Waltzer redesigned the two-story office/guest house, which had been built in 1965 and damaged during the Northridge earthquake, giving the new steel-frame structure a horizontal band of windows and a fireplace made with the same flagstone used in the main house's fireplace and foyer.

To echo Neutra's clean lines, both buildings are filled with streamlined mid-century furnishings by George Nelson, Charles Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright and Isamu Noguchi. "I see the furnishings of the period as the purest form of design," Waltzer says. In addition, she designed and commissioned a built-in corner sofa/end table/bookcase unit in the family room. Elsewhere, she combined a few old and new classics, for instance, surrounding Neutra's own camel-leg table with Frank Gehry's "High Sticking" chairs.

If Neutra could see the place today, Waltzer thinks he might be tempted to reclaim it. "He would undoubtedly eliminate some of the pottery--too much clutter for him--but otherwise, he would be happy."

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