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ARCHITECTURE

Bohemia, with a killer view

With Schindler as her inspiration and Eastside grunge as her muse, Barbara Bestor is spreading her brand of funky Modernism across Silver Lake -- and beyond.

April 06, 2006|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

BARBARA BESTOR'S office is hiding. Camouflaged in ever-changing murals on a gritty stretch of Fountain Avenue in Silver Lake, the building has only one formal sign, and it reads "Hair" -- a leftover from the beauty salon that used to occupy the site.

It's not what one might expect of an emerging architect in arguably the city's hippest neighborhood, but that's Bestor: as hard to define as L.A.'s evolving Eastside. Schooled in Modernism at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, later hired by the Beastie Boys and the Dust Brothers, and now relied upon by two young daughters, Bestor manages to fuse street culture with high design, building homes that are full of bohemian chic yet conscious of the realities of everyday living. At 39, she is among a new generation of architects redefining not only what this part of Los Angeles will look like for decades to come, but also how its residents will live.

During the next two years, half a dozen of her houses will be completed in Silver Lake, Los Feliz, Echo Park and Mount Washington, raising her presence in areas best known for midcentury classics by R.M. Schindler, Richard Neutra and Gregory Ain. Though inspired by those architects' groundbreaking work, her mission lies not in channeling their aesthetic but in advancing it, her way, which may mean using army-surplus arctic netting as a room divider or "repurposing" a baseball backstop as the wall of an outdoor dining room.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 11, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Eastside architecture: An article in the April 6 Home section about architect Barbara Bestor said Mark Brown was an actor, and partner Bob Cesario was a TV writer and producer. Brown is the writer and producer, and Cesario is the actor.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 13, 2006 Home Edition Home Part F Page 7 Features Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Eastside architecture -- An April 6 article in the Home section about architect Barbara Bestor incorrectly said Mark Brown is an actor and partner Bob Cesario is a TV writer-producer. Brown is the writer-producer, and Cesario is the actor.

"I really like all the ugly stuff about L.A. I like that my office is on a street with a bunch of auto mechanics. I like that stuff almost as much as I like the How House," Bestor says, citing a Schindler on Silver Ridge Avenue.

Other designers, of course, also balance the functional with the funky. But as architect and UCLA adjunct associate professor Roger Sherman points out, Bestor has a clarity of vision, a populist spirit that sets her apart.

"Right now, the state of architecture we have is a kind of digital craze, where it's all about what you can do with the computer and generate these outrageous and complex and evocative forms, which are almost impossible to construct," Sherman says. "She's really interested in bridging the gap between high and low culture."

ERIC SCHMIDT knew that he wanted to buy the Mount Washington house after six steps. That's how long it took him to walk from the glass entryway into the living room, where he glimpsed the city skyline through the cutout window of a built-in bookcase.

The roomy deck catching the hilltop breeze, the open floor plan -- those were gravy for Schmidt and his wife, Lucy Bivins, who bought the house in 2004. But unlike most impulse buys, the 1,600-square-foot space that Bestor designed has grown more beloved over time. Every need, the couple says, seems to have been anticipated.

Bestor positioned the back-door overhang to block the sun during summer but to allow its warming rays inside during winter. Her mirrored kitchen backsplash affords all guests at the dining room table with a killer view, whether they're facing the window or have their backs turned. Colorful vinyl decals on bathroom windows provide privacy but still allow two showers to be bathed in natural light.

"A lot of what Barbara's interested in and cares about is really intertwined in terms of designing for people's lives," says fellow Silver Lake architect Joe Day. "More than a lot of practices in Los Angeles, Barbara really wants to make the way people live manifest in how she builds for them."

Bestor says she isn't interested in designing sculpturally challenging, visually groundbreaking architecture, but rather places that are better attuned to clients' inner lives -- their daily routines, their relationship to their surroundings.

When Bestor designs, she uses detailed cardboard topographical models instead of computer animation. Because much of her work is in Silver Lake and the surrounding hills, most projects are built into slopes and between existing homes. Working with cardboard, she says, better allows her to try various ways of orienting the building and to figure out which works best -- minimizing cost, maximizing natural light and allowing privacy and views without adversely affecting the neighbors.

It's a process that Bestor likens to calculus. One of her current projects -- a home she's building for herself near the Griffith Park Observatory -- is across the street from a Frank Lloyd Wright house, two doors down from a Neutra, with a Schindler around the corner.

"It's on a heavily branded street," Bestor says, which necessitates even more calculus than normal.

Her challenge: "How do you do something that's contemporary and not a version of any of the famous predecessors? For me, I want it to be low-key.... I wanted to do something that was more livable and kid-oriented than a Modernism that's concerned with itself as purist, Modernist expression."

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