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SOCAL STYLE / Home & Garden

Mid-Century Luxe Redux

From the moment they bought the landmark Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, Brent and Beth Harris, along with architects Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner, were involved in an intense process of restoration. Beth, who is completing her PhD in architectural history at UCLA, talks about the experience:

May 23, 1999|Judy Prouty

Q: Why did you buy the house?

A: We never did this as a real estate investment. We knew that it was architecturally significant, but it had been on the market for years. I thought it was among the top five International Style houses in the country; certainly in the glass house genre it's one of the best. We thought it should be restored, but what we didn't know was what that was going to require. That was a surprise.

Q: What was your biggest priority?

A: It had become an enclosed traditional house. It had too much stuff in it. Too much drapery and air conditioning. It was originally designed to open up from dark, intimate niches to the bright, open landscape.

Q: What was the hardest part of the restoration for you?

A: The length of time. It was 51/2 years. We had two children over that time and we met with the architects weekly. We stayed in hotels in the desert in July in 110-degree heat.

Q: Have you started a trend?

A: We are surprised at the interest in Modernism now. That (kind of interest) didn't exist in 1992. At the time we bought the house, no one here was restoring modern houses that we knew about.

Q: What do you love most about the house?

A: It's small moments of private spaces . . . conversation areas in the living room. Seventy five percent of the house is transition space from the private to the outdoors.

Q: What do you love most about living in this house?

A: I like having the dining and living space separate from the kitchen. It promotes the art of conversation. I don't like family rooms.

Q: What is your favorite room?

A: The dining patio on the first floor. Every material that's in the house exists there . . . aluminum, wood, stone. I have my coffee there in the morning and my cocktails at night.

Q: How did you choose the furnishings?

A: Everything is built in. We added a dining table, two coffee tables and about 18 Eames chairs. And there's a chaise in the bedroom that I had bought a year before the house.

Q: Who is your architectural hero?

A: I like the experimental qualities of Bernard Maybeck's work, to have a human, livable space with warm and natural materials.

Q: What's it like to live in an icon?

A: This is a beautiful house and easy to be in. It's efficient and good for weekend use. But it was designed for two elderly people, not a family with small children. Another difficulty is the number of people who come and want to see the house. They think it's a public place. They want to know the hours.

Q: Why do you think Neutra is such a symbol of cool right now?

A: I think it's very much about anti-overt consumerism, anti-luxury, where everything has to be bigger with more stuff in it. I think people want buildings that are more elegant in a subdued way. They don't want the house to engulf the landscape. There's a nostalgia for the culture of Frank Sinatra and casual good times. I think people are rejecting the flash.

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