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Romantic Residence in L.A. - The Sheats - Goldstein Residence by John Lautner

by Edward Lifson ( last modified Jan 04, 2012 03:04 AM
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by Edward Lifson ( last modified Nov 25, 2010



It was a dark and stormy day...

Well, "dark and stormy" by Los Angeles standards.   

Not sunny and no bright blue sky.

We had been invited to visit Jim Goldstein at his John Lautner-designed house, first named after the family that commissioned it, and now commonly called the Sheats - Goldstein Residence, given all the care and money Jim Goldstein put into it; and also perhaps in recognition of his opening it up to those interested in such things.  On this gray day of fog and drizzle driving there on the 101 felt more like being on the autobahn in Prussia.  In L.A. if it rains, you take a moment to remember what and where windshield wipers are.  

Jim Goldstein, the owner and great caretaker of the house greeted us, 

in colorful coat by John Galliano, short pants and bright yellow sneakers, topped it off with a baseball cap.   

Gray and rain bring out more complex emotions in the Lautner house.  To see it this way is a privilege.  It tests your love of Lautner.  The house, less overwhelmingly gorgeous, feels more intimate.  You get to know it better,  like a lady without makeup.  You see sides of the house you didn't know where there.  More moods to the experience. 

I had known, in sunny weather, how the great roof framed a view of nature and sent my soul flying out to the treetops and beyond.  Now I saw how in the rain, the triangles on the underside, became like abstracted leaves of a tree.  

The cement ribs became the structure of the leaves.  We stood under it as man and woman in nature gather under trees to keep dry.  The roof was now one large leaf keeping us dry.  You thank it.  Because of the design and because the side is open you are much more aware of the goodness of this roof - especially in the rain.   You experience more fully in this contemplative condition how the individual triangles merge into one large triangular roof.  The parts combine into the whole. 

The oculi, in sun allowing light to pass, transform into abstracted raindrops on the leaf.  Light becomes liquid.       

Move farther inside.

I know of no better cave than this place.  Radiant heat in the floor keeps you warm from your feet up to your head.

Lautner too was moody.  The dwellings he designed are not gee-whiz pads for James Bond; they are ruminations, on our relation to nature, to changing light, to materials, to the metaphysics of geometry, the parts to the whole, organic to inorganic, solid to spirit, house and human to landscape and heaven.  

It's easy and pleasant to forget this under the sun, when all is perfect and warm, as is so often the case in L.A.  

John Lautner didn't like it here.  Jim Goldstein once asked him how he would improve the city.  

"I'd make a huge concrete boulder and roll it down Mulholland Drive," Jim Goldstein says Lautner told him.    

I think Lautner would approve of the German Romanticism felt in his house on this day. His Austrian father had filled him with the German philosophy he'd studied in studied Göttingen, Leipzig, Geneva and Paris.  His Irish mother, an artist, filled young John Lautner with Nordic myths. 

This great architect of mid-century Los Angeles roadside eating and hillside homes, could never anchor himself in this sun-drenched sprawl, but drew inspiration from the nature and dwellings he knew back home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; and of course from having worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, in Wisconsin.  More on that in the next post.   





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