Hollywood Renovation: Week 7

In this exclusive series for Dwell.com, Linda Taalman of Taalman Koch Architecture tracks the hands-on renovation of her and her partner's live-work space in Hollywood, California. Week 7: Flashback! This week’s post is a lead-up to the living solutions we will soon propose for our living and dining spaces. Since starting this blog post with Dwell, we’ve connected with individuals who have had a special relationship to Ellwood and the Courtyard Apartments. This week we had a visit from Frank Swig, the first tenant of unit A of the Courtyard Apartments, who lived here from 1953-1962. He shared with us his stories of living here as a bachelor in his 20’s when he came out to Hollywood to work at CBS as an art director. The CBS studios are only a block away and he was walking down our street one day when he saw a 'for rent' sign taped up in the window. Frank gave us a peek into the ‘Mad Men’ era he lived in and the style of the apartment at that time. He’s the second octogenarian we’ve recently met that has a strong relationship with this building. Al and Trudy Kallis, a couple who wanted to build one of our itHouses, knew the architect, Craig Ellwood, personally and they generously gave us an original copy of a rare Ellwood book with great photos of the Ellwood Apartments when they were brand new. Frank pointed to one of the pictures in the book and said, “See that in the upstairs window? That’s my easel!”

To see images of the project, please visit the slideshow. Click here to read past installments of the series.

Frank Swig, 1954.


Frank arrived with a folio of clippings and his own photographs of the building. This is Unit B, which has since been joined to Unit A (according to Frank, sometime in the 80s). This unit is now our living room. The picture is taken from the pocket kitchen looking across the dining room table with the hanging cupboard above.

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Frank told us how he took off the legs of a couch and put it on the floor next to the fireplace. We can also see in this image that the paver in the courtyard used to be about a foot larger than it is today.

As shown in this picture, we learned that all the wood, inside and out, was a natural ‘driftwood’ grey finish, and the floors were gray linoleum 12 x 12 tile. . (Now the interior wood is natural doug fir and the courtyard wood is painted white). Frank joked that Craig Ellwood did not approve of his furniture! Noticing the painting and the stereo in this picture, I asked him if he listened to "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis, which was recorded in 1958. But Frank replied that he preferred female vocalists... The light switch pole (which we love) was apparently a concession of the architect to the building department, which required a light switch at the front door. In the Ellwood apartments, there is no formal front door—instead there is a glass wall with sliding doors across the entire façade.

The garden has a totally different vibe with the soft gray wood (and the sculptures) The current white paint of the courtyards is blinding many days—especially in the summer. We are looking at toning it down with a similar light gray exterior paint finish.

Frank’s stereo/console neatly tucks away. Too bad we can't do the same with our CAD workstations.

The original kitchen was a little pocket kitchen with a small dining area and overhead cabinet.

The cabinets are beautifully simple and the cork backsplash would have been lovely. Cork backsplash has got us thinking...

The refrigerator is tucked in the void under the stair, making the kitchen more a composition of furniture than appliances.

Wexler Family House, Palm Springs, 1955. Photo by Juergen Nogai, 2010. This week another cool octogenarian, besides Ellwood, the Kallises, and Swig is on our minds: the architect Donald Wexler. Wexler is currently being recognized at the Palm Springs Museum with an exhibition "Steel and Shade" that covers the last six decades of his work. Like Ellwood, Wexler made the 50’s sleek and modern and pushed the development of material and structural building technology. Also like Ellwood he focused on steel as an innovative system to enable the California lifestyle of indoor/outdoor living. Wexler’s own house, pictured here, inspires us to reconsider more neutral possibilities for the Courtyard Apartments, beyond its current stark black and white.

Wexler Family House, Palm Springs, 1955. Photo by Juergen Nogai, 2010. Next week, on Saturday February 26, in Palm Springs during Modernism Week, the Museum’s Architecture and Design Council will sponsor a series of lectures about the importance of post-war architecture and its innovations, a symposium on Wexler’s legacy, and tours of several Wexler houses. I will be participating in the symposium along with two other contemporary architects, Barton Meyers and Lance O’Donnel, who continue the legacy built by Wexler and Case Study architects such as Ellwood. Hope to see you there.

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