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In Defense of the Persian Palace

They're ostentatious and ridiculous and blot out their neighbors' sun. They're also open to light and the street, and expressive of an inviting, sociable culture.

December 17, 2006|Greg Goldin | Greg Goldin is Los Angeles magazine's architecture critic.

At last, without the least regard for the appointed hour, which is long past, we reach our destination, the home of Masoud and Flora Yadegar. The house, on North Camden, was completed nearly a decade ago, and fits the definition of Persian Palace to a T. A hemispheric portico, supported by white columns, projects from a two-story facade of symmetrical windows and balconies. The two-story entry has an etched-glass clerestory, drawn by Yadegar, who combed through floral designs in books he borrowed from the Beverly Hills Public Library.

"Call me Mike, and this is my wife, Flora," Yadegar says as he opens the door, adding, "You're always welcome. No hour is too late." Yadegar means what he says, and his remark reveals another feature of the Persian Palace that is expressed in the architecture. His home is about hospitality, openness, letting in the light. "I didn't want to close it up completely," Yadegar says. "We like light," says Flora.

The foyer itself is modest, its white marble floor inset with a five-point black-and-gold star. The main feature of the interior is a twin swan's neck staircase rising dramatically to a second-story curved balcony, supported on columns identical to those of the portico outside. Yadegar is 50-ish, dressed in Nike flip-flops and a wild print shirt. His stylish wrap-around glasses and baritone voice, which has a slight Continental inflection, make him look and sound like Yves Montand. "I always wanted stairs going up," he says on a tour that includes every room in the house. The columns, he confesses, were "all Hamid's idea. When he put them together and showed us the perspective, it grabbed us."

Otherwise the house, surprisingly, takes its cues from Southern California Modernism. Although the decor is decidedly Rococo--gold leaf and deep swags of silk curtains abound--the downstairs is one continuous open space, and every wall consists of windows or French doors. The entire house, in effect, can be flung open to the air and sun. With the curtains drawn aside, you can see from front to back--an unobstructed view that is characteristic of most Persian Palaces.

In this way, Persian Palaces relate to the Southern California landscape as much as any Modernist steel-and-glass flattop and, to an extent that few of us care to admit, they giddily reflect an architectural heritage that is considered an American archetype. The homes are all about indoor-outdoor living as, equally, they are about community and what the New Urbanists call "front porches." Persian Palaces are welcoming to the street. They are unabashed and uninhibited, and in their almost constant references to the human form, very nearly licentious. They radiate light and coax interest--sometimes our (offended) prurient interest. Still, if you trouble to walk the length of a block where the homes now compose the design idiom, you may be pleasantly surprised at the luxe decorative nature the block assumes. Drab, middle-class modesty is decidedly outre in these environs. It's as if someone had invited Vargas to paint the ceiling of Beverly Hills Presbyterian on Rodeo Drive.

Pausing by the front door, Yadegar explains: "I wasn't building a house to show off. I built it just to live in. The only crazy things are the columns and the staircase. Before I built this house, I bought a house in a different section of Beverly Hills, below Burton Way. I paid $450,000 for that house, and it was all closed off by trees, and there were no windows. I spent $30,000 to take out the trees and open up the windows. People would pass by and say, 'Where did this house come from?' I didn't do it to have them see me. I did it to see them." By which he means, he wanted to watch people the way one watches people on the streets of New York or Barcelona.

"Every night," Yadegar says as we make our way out to the sidewalk, "I turn all the lights on. We like it to be bright. I like to see the people passing by."

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