A Sensitively Restored Midcentury House Designed by Pierre Koenig
The house was commissioned in 1953 by Edwin and Aurora Scott, a chemist and his wife who were looking for a home that would allow them to enjoy the indoor/outdoor lifestyle of Southern California. After purchasing a plot of land in Tujunga with 270-degree views of the city below, the Scotts set out to find an architect to design their home.
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By chance, they drove past Koenig’s Case Study House #1 in Glendale, which Koenig was using as his own residence at the time. The Scotts were so impressed by the house, that they rang the doorbell, met Koenig, and asked him to design their new home.
In 2014, Nikolaus Kraemer and Heather van Haaften, a couple who are passionate about midcentury-modern architecture and furniture, purchased the Scott House from Aurora (who was 94 years old at the time) and sensitively restored it in a way that would reflect the property’s roots.
"We knew of Koenig’s work when we first saw his iconic Stahl House. Heather and I were intrigued by his accurate rationale of steel being not just something you can ‘put up and take down,’ but a way of life," says Nikolaus, who compares their serendipitous acquisition to "owning an original Warhol, Lichtenstein, or Ruscha."
Though they were grateful to be able to purchase an iconic residence directly from its original owners—rather than one that had been altered by numerous people—the couple nonetheless had to invest a lot of time and effort in renovating and reviving the architectural gem.
"Midcentury-modern homes can suffer from too many ambitious owners trying to improve their homes. Mostly, these attempts do more harm than good, and can even distort the original design," says Nikolaus.
The house's flat-roof structure had substantial damage that needed to be addressed. A few years after the house was built, a leak developed in the roof, so Edwin Scott had poured a four-inch layer of light concrete on the metal roof panels.
"By doing so, Edwin had hoped to 'seal' the roof from any further water leakage, but he overlooked the fact that metal and concrete result in an acid reaction. The surface of the roof then cracked and water came all the way through to the metal surface, causing hundreds of rusted holes to form over the decades. By removing the light concrete layer from the roof, we were able to save the original ceiling panels," says Nikolaus.
Nikolaus and Heather hired Urban Innovations, Inc. and MIM Construction Inc. to work on the renovation. When the project began, they discovered that the electrical and plumbing systems were also in bad condition.
"The roof was in such bad shape that our contractor Meir Manor from MIM Construction suggested it might be cheaper to replace Koenig’s signature metal ceiling rather than try to fix it. That, of course, was out of the question.
Eventually, Manor and his team found an effective and affordable way to save the original roof by gluing zinc patches on top of the hundreds of holes, filling them up with Bondo, a putty that's normally used as an anti-rust treatment for cars. He then sanded the entire bottom part of the ceiling to smooth it," says Heather.
The construction team then rust-proofed the roof by painting it with two layers of heavy-duty primer and a coat of white paint. They replaced all the electric and plumbing systems, as well as the glass panels. They also upgraded the kitchen, bathrooms, floors, driveway, and lighting.
Like many of Koenig’s Case Study Houses, the Scott House is an architecturally simple, L-shaped structure made up of straight, clean lines. Plenty of floor-to-ceiling glass walls link the interior spaces and visually connect the house with its surrounding environment.
A bright and expansive central living area is anchored by a dividing wall and a two-sided fireplace. Sliding glass doors connect this central living space to other parts of the house.
The kitchen connects to two dining zones: an indoor dining area with a small round table, and a larger "winter garden" dining space with a rectangular table. Full glazing on their exterior walls of the two bedrooms bring in tons of light and allow guests to feel a sense of being immersed in the outdoors.
With many of its structural details still intact, the Scott House is an authentic example of Koenig's architectural legacy.
"With the help of Urban Innovations, Inc. and MIM Construction, we were able to bring the house back to its original state. It now represents the best of Pierre Koenig’s original plans and design, enriched with the amenities of a contemporary 2017 living standard. When Aurora visited us in 2015, she was very pleased with the result," says Heather.