BEAMED BACK

It’s 1940 again as an Echo Park guest­house, one of ar­chi­tect John Laut­ner’s first works, re­turns to its woodsy glory with touch-ups and match-ups.

Los Angeles Times - - SATURDAY - BY LISA BOONE lisa.boone@la­times.com Twit­ter: @lis­a­boone19

Although most of us know about ar­chi­tect John Laut­ner through iconic works such as the cir­cu­lar Che­mo­sphere house or the Sil­ver­top es­tate, his first of­fi­cial com­mis­sion in Los An­ge­les was a mod­est 600-square-foot guest­house, a refuge that has the peace­ful feel­ing of a cabin with warm wood floors and pan­el­ing, and floor-to-ceil­ing glass win­dows over­look­ing an Echo Park canyon.

To­day the house looks much as it did when it was com­pleted in 1940, thanks to a ma­jor restora­tion.

Af­ter a pe­riod as a rental, the house had fallen into dis­re­pair. Rou­tine wear and tear in­cluded ter­mite dam­age to some of the home’s wood fram­ing and wa­ter dam­age to the ceil­ing. In ad­di­tion, the floors, bath­room and kitchen needed to be re­placed.

“Dis­re­pair is just lack of main­te­nance,” said Michelle Marks of WWFF De­sign, who was hired along with part­ner Diana Kunce to up­date the space last year. “There was a lot left for us to pre­serve. We worked to reimag­ine the house within the pa­ram­e­ters that Laut­ner de­signed for the house.”

At the sug­ges­tion of ar­chi­tect Frank Escher, who re­stored Laut­ner’s Che­mo­sphere, the duo con­sulted the Laut­ner ar­chives at the Getty Re­search In­sti­tute. This would prove use­ful in de­ci­pher­ing some of the home’s un­usual con­struc­tion de­tails. In the process of restor­ing seg­ments of the roof, they dis­cov­ered that Laut­ner had stretched can­vas be­tween each ceil­ing rafter, in lieu of dry­wall, be­fore in­stalling the roof. Af­ter con­sult­ing plans and vin­tage pub­li­ca­tions at the Getty, they learned that he had cre­ated a sim­i­lar can­vas roof for a tent shel­ter he built at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s school in Ari­zona. “We had never come across some­thing like that,” Marks said. “It was ex­cit­ing. We learned it was a very in­ex­pen­sive way to achieve a flat ceil­ing.”

In an ef­fort to keep the orig­i­nal spirit of the house, the de­sign­ers chose mod­est ma­te­ri­als they felt would com­ple­ment Laut­ner’s de­sign and not stand out as new. “We picked things we thought he would ap­pre­ci­ate,” added Marks.

The new red oak floor was in­stalled in the same man­ner and pat­tern as the orig­i­nal floors. The red brick fire­place was left un­touched along with the built-in couch that Laut­ner de­signed. Some win­dows were re­built, and dry­wall was added to the ceil­ing, although sec­tions of the early can­vas are still vis­i­ble from be­low. In­te­rior beams were re­fin­ished and re­painted in the same red hue as the orig­i­nals. New cab­i­netry and stor­age were se­lected to blend in with the look, in­clud­ing in­te­grated han­dles — routed fin­ger pulls in the kitchen cab­i­nets — like the ones Laut­ner had de­signed.

“It was re­ally nice to see the ar­chi­tect’s hand,” added Kunce.

The kitchen, which fea­tured tile coun­ters and wood-front cab­i­netry, needed to be gut­ted. New stained red­wood cus­tom cab­i­nets were in­stalled along with Heath tile in a warm ocher to suit the woodsy feel­ing of the house. The geo­met­ric tile pat­tern was in­spired by the acute an­gles of the main cor­ner win­dows in the living room.

“It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent at­mos­phere here,” said Marks. “It feels like North­ern Cal­i­for­nia.”

To help open up the kitchen and keep the hor­i­zon­tal lines of the space, the de­sign­ers re­moved a full­size re­frig­er­a­tor from the 1970s and in­stalled a smaller one un­der­neath the Euro­stone coun­ter­top.

To add space in the bed­room, they re­moved a low closet un­der­neath a win­dow and cre­ated a sim­ple open stor­age closet be­hind a wall lead­ing to the bath­room. In the bath­room, a wall-mounted sink and toi­let im­proved the room’s tiny foot­print along with a glass walk-in shower. In an­other space-sav­ing move, the pair re­placed the bath­room’s swing door with a slider.

So as not to over­power Laut­ner’s de­sign, Marks and Kunce fur­nished the rooms with mid­cen­tury wood fur­ni­ture from Dan­ish Mod­ern, a sim­ple pen­dant lamp by Los An­ge­les designer Bren­dan Raven­hill and mid­cen­tury-in­spired lamps and ce­ram­ics they found on EBay.

In­deed, the con­trast be­tween old and new is al­most in­dis­tin­guish­able. In the end, the de­sign­ers have cre­ated a flex­i­ble space that not only pre­serves the mem­ory of Laut­ner but also serves the home­owner’s de­sire for an adap­tive space for par­ties, read­ing and guests.

“Even though the stu­dio is one of his ear­li­est works, his de­sign spirit was strong,” Marks said. “We ap­proached the job with the goal of con­tin­u­ing his func­tional sim­plic­ity, hon­est ma­te­ri­als and love of ge­om­e­try.”

Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

THOUGH THE wood fram­ing of the Laut­ner house needed re­pair, de­sign­ers Michelle Marks, above, and Diana Kunce pre­served the brick fire­place.

Pho­to­graphs by Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

A GUEST­HOUSE over­look­ing an Echo Park canyon, one of John Laut­ner’s first works, re­turns to 1940 form with a restora­tion that re­tains its strik­ing win­dows.

RE­PAIRS TO the fram­ing en­liven the cabin-like feel. “It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent at­mos­phere here. It feels like North­ern Cal­i­for­nia,” says Michelle Marks, one of the project’s two de­sign­ers.

AN UN­DER­STATED Modernist bureau and shelves in the bed­room re­call sim­i­lar de­signs by the famed ar­chi­tect.

THE BUILT-IN couch that Laut­ner de­signed and his red brick fire­place were left as is; the in­te­rior beams were re­painted.

LAUT­NER’S ORIG­I­NAL shelv­ing in the living room was pre­served, along with the home’s dis­tinct geo­met­ric pat­terns.

A LAMP in mid­cen­tury style found on EBay lends sim­plic­ity.

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