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INNER LIFE

A big, beautiful empty

The masterful minimalism of Scott Nadeau's post-and-beam house in Eagle Rock came with a surprise extra -- the friendship of Eugene Weston III, the architect who designed it 53 years ago.

August 31, 2006|David A. Keeps | Times Staff Writer

THOUGH he retired 16 years ago, Eugene Weston III still gets calls. Some are clients from decades past who tell the architect that his wood-and-glass houses have withstood earthquakes just fine. Others want Weston, one of the last surviving masters of 1950s post-and-beam construction in Southern California, to renovate and enlarge their midcentury homes. To the former, the 82-year-old says thanks. To the latter: Thanks, but no thanks.

Then there's Scott Nadeau. In 2003, he purchased the Eagle Rock house that a young Weston designed in 1953 for Norman Bilderback, then a director of design at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. As a collector and dealer of 20th century decorative arts, Nadeau, 49, wanted to connect with the architect of his home but was reticent.

"This gentleman probably thought I wanted to butcher his work," Nadeau says. "Like, 'Hey, I want to add on three bedrooms to this 1,480-square-foot house.' "

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Nadeau, an occasional house flipper, had finally flipped for a home that needed no improvement. He intended to keep it pretty much the way he had found it.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 09, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Eagle Rock home: An Aug. 31 Home section cover story about a house designed by Eugene Weston III identified Borge Mogensen as a Swedish designer. He is Danish. The article also made reference to sculpture by David Wilcox; the art should have been credited to David Wilkins.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 14, 2006 Home Edition Home Part F Page 5 Features Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Eagle Rock home: An Aug. 31 cover story about a house designed by Eugene Weston III identified Borge Mogensen as a Swedish designer. He is Danish. The story also made reference to sculpture by David Wilcox; the art should have been credited to David Wilkins.

"When the sun comes up and this amazing summer light comes through the windows on both sides of the living room, it's like being in a treehouse," he says. "I kept thinking about this 28-year-old designer, Eugene Weston. God, how smart is this guy?"

A year later, Nadeau summoned the courage to look up the architect in the phone book and call. By that time, he had become a Weston scholar and preservationist, archiving photographs and blueprints of the house and furnishing it in an appropriately minimal midcentury fashion.

Today, the two men are friends. Although Weston and his wife, Wanda, live in Santa Barbara, they have a neighborly regard for Nadeau, wife Joanna and son Clay, and together they have witnessed a modest rediscovery of Weston's work among fans of midcentury architecture.

"Though a lot of them were small, the houses are still very livable," Weston says. "I guess people finally realized this is a good thing."

*

GROWING up, Nadeau was unaware that he lived two blocks away from Weston's Bilderback house, the architect's only commission in Eagle Rock.

"When I was a kid riding my bike through here, I didn't even think about what was a modern home," Nadeau recalls. "I didn't even remember it being there."

One day more than 30 years later, Nadeau needed to have drapes hemmed and pressed for a house he was restoring. He remembered the dry cleaners his mother had used, and after dropping off the curtains, he took a spin past his former family house. Along the way he passed the Weston design, modest enough from the front but seductively sited on a hillside and distinguished by long, lean lines and vast picture windows. A "for sale" sign was out front.

"The first time I walked in, there was a Hans Wegner dining table, a Van Keppel and Green sofa and all this Architectural Pottery, all of it original, holy grail stuff," Nadeau says. Based on the furnishings, he assumed the house would be out of his league.

"Two days later, I'm standing here making a deal for the pottery and all of a sudden I said, 'I have to buy this house.' "

Nadeau made only a few changes. In the backyard, studded with succulents and mature oaks and olives, he replaced a bench suspended from a rock-retaining wall with redwood slats. He also paved a side patio in pebbles and cement to match the aggregate of an existing terrace.

Inside, Nadeau removed a closet in the entryway to make a niche for a George Nelson bench and replaced cork-covered walls with period-appropriate grass cloth paper. He kept the 50-year-old particle board and Masonite sliding doors, the original Formica kitchen counters and the cork-tiled floors, which run throughout the house and have weathered into intriguing geometric abstractions.

"It still feels comfortable," Weston says on a recent visit to the home, adding with a laugh, "I didn't screw this one up."

*

A third-generation Californian and Los Angeles house builder, Weston attended what is now called the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena before becoming one of the many post-World War II industrial design graduates of the school who achieved distinction as an architect.

His materials, aesthetics and siting exemplify the contemporary design of the postwar era, says Keith York, an architectural historian and authority on Southern California modernism. "His designs are simple, elegant and to the scale of how many people desired to live, then and now," he says.

Exploring the unification of indoor and outdoor spaces exhibited in Frank Lloyd Wright's Japanese-influenced designs, Weston and classmate Douglas Byles became general contractors and built post-and-beam homes that were cost-effective, delivering small spaces with grand views.

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