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New Modes for Modern Lives

A UCLA show examines homes that reject traditional models. But what's it like to live in one of those houses?

October 29, 2000|DIANE HAITHMAN | Diane Haithman is a Times staff writer

An odd phrase, "The Un-Private House"--it's the title of an ongoing exhibition at UCLA Hammer Museum that takes a look at 25 homes of the future.

The name implies that the houses in the exhibition, which comes to the Hammer via New York City's Museum of Modern Art, are non-private, public in some way.

But that's not the idea. Rather, these houses depart in a big way from what we have traditionally called the private home--designed for the nuclear family living in suburbia. Mom and Dad (that is, one male and one female heterosexual, married to each other); 2.5 children; pet optional. These houses aren't like that. They are un-private houses, designed for a new generation of families who no longer fit that mold.

"The first criteria [for the exhibition] was that the houses had to represent a significant development in the contemporary architectural scene," says Terence Riley, curator of the exhibition and chief curator of the Museum of Modern Art's department of architecture and design. "Beyond that, what we were finding most interesting were houses that also represented something other than the traditional domestic program."

Riley says that the house first became a "private house" when people became wealthy enough to move the family business out of the family home. "That's when it became about acquiring all the habits, attitudes and comforts that we call 'domestic,' " he says.

One of the biggest changes Riley finds in the new breed of homes is that now families are becoming wealthy enough to move the family business back into the home in the form of elaborate home offices.

"I suppose it's one of the transitions that also raises the most anxiety," Riley says. "Each succeeding generation is somewhat scandalized by the next generation's adaptation of technology in the house, the telephone, the TV, the radio--all of those things were considered some sort of a threat to domesticity.

"The house of the couple who are both currency traders horrifies most people. [The Lipschutz/Jones Apartment, New York City, contains a digital trading room, as well as six video monitors throughout the apartment to allow the couple to keep constant track of world financial markets.] Immediately there is this vision of 24-hour work. The fact is, this couple has very clearly learned how to manage technology.

"The first crack in the monolithic production of three- and four-bedroom houses, with a peaked roof in a suburban tract near public schools, was when the housing industry realized there was a whole market for people who were growing older, who needed a different type of house than they had before," Riley continues. "There can be different kinds of houses for different kinds of people.

"They used to always talk about resale value--they urged people not to do anything that will make the house less salable. At that time you could talk about a certain monolithic model for houses, and that is no longer true."

Perhaps the best people to define the un-private house are the residents of those houses--an emerging group of often non-nuclear families whose private lives no longer fit comfortably into the "private home."

Hergott Shepard Residence,

Beverly Hills, 1999

* Architect: Michael Maltzan.

* Residents: Alan Hergott, 50, attorney, Bloom, Hergott, Diemer and Cook; and Curt Shepard, 44, screenwriter.

Hergott: We were casually looking around in this area for a house to buy and remodel. None of them had the right combination of things, [and] we couldn't quite imagine, with the money we had to spend, making them right enough for us. We met a real estate agent who said: "You guys are never going to find a house that you like--but I know of a lot that you might want to buy and build a house on."

Shepard: We had a lot of discussions about lifestyle [with Maltzan] before we ever talked about design. Our art collection is very important to us, so first and foremost we wanted it to be a home for the art collection. Also, because of this amazing site, we wanted to capture the view. Those were two very important but kind of contradictory things that [Maltzan] had to solve, to capture the view, but to also have enough big walls and proper light conditions to accommodate an art collection that changes and grows.

We didn't want curvy walls. [He laughs.] You can't really hang much on curves. We wanted it to be right angles, and we wanted it to appear as a minimalist sculpture from all angles.

Hergott: I don't think there's anything particularly mysterious or obscurely intellectual about "private" versus "un-private." The house is clearly set up to serve as a place for entertaining, and a place to serve any number of our specific needs, individually and as a couple, for living.

Shepard: It's basically a big house with two bedrooms. It's not necessarily for a gay couple, but definitely a couple with no children. The privacy needs are a little bit different from the usual houses with three bedrooms--it's very open.

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