Make It Modern

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By Dwell and Amanda Dameron
Dwell editor-in-chief Amanda Dameron talks us through Dwell's September 2016 issue.

Imagine a house designed by Richard Neutra in the 1950s, nestled in the hills of Los Angeles. Custom oak built-ins, expansive glass, clean lines, the whole nine yards. Now imagine pink—on the walls, on the ceiling, on the drapes, on the wall-to-wall carpeting. Imagine mirrored walls, and ill-conceived revisions to the kitchen and to the outside. After many decades, this "poor pink house" hit the market, in 2013. A couple looking for a new home toured the house, mostly out of curiosity about Neutra’s handiwork. One half of the couple was immediately excited. The other half wanted to run.

When I think about this issue, my mind returns to this pair, and how only one of them saw the potential right away. It took a bit longer for the other to buy in, to be convinced that there was something to be saved. Luckily, they eventually found common ground, and today the house is back in fighting shape. 

Make It Modern - Photo 1 of 3 - The Snower House, a rare Marcel Breuer residence west of the Mississippi, was meticulously restored 60 years after it was built. 

The Snower House, a rare Marcel Breuer residence west of the Mississippi, was meticulously restored 60 years after it was built. 

There’s great satisfaction in seeing homes revived. Woodwork restored. Awkward additions removed. Colors, long faded, carefully matched and reapplied. It takes patience, flexibility, dedication. And money, of course. And it’s not going to happen overnight. There will be many days of setbacks, of miscalculations, of heated arguments, with a million decisions so granular it seems the outcome couldn’t possibly matter, a million decisions so huge that actually making the choice is terrifying, because there’s no going back.

Make It Modern - Photo 2 of 3 - Rising from the edge of the pool deck, a planted overhang shelters a gym and sauna below.

Rising from the edge of the pool deck, a planted overhang shelters a gym and sauna below.

Renovators, we salute you. You are made of tough stuff. In the pages that follow, we see the work of Richard Neutra, Marcel Breuer, Philip Johnson, Calvin Straub, and others, sensitively updated and thoughtfully complemented. That’s not to say that the homes without architectural pedigrees are any less impressive—in fact, I could argue that those homes are the ones that make the most impact, because there are no owner’s manuals to refer to, no published treatises on the architect’s philosophy. The interpretation is left solely to those practicing and deciding today, and that too takes great courage.

There’s a certain weariness in the voice of anyone undergoing a home renovation. Why? Because these people have been to hell and back. They’ve been tested. Their relationships have been tested. Their wallets have been tested. What’s been revealed in the process isn’t easy to forget. 

Don’t let those makeover shows fool you. You can’t walk away for 48 hours and return to a whole new house. The candy-colored confections presented in the "after" shots don’t represent real renovations; they are only set designs. You need an army of professionals, as well as strong personal resolve. You need a sound foundation, literally and figuratively. A sense of humor—even gallows humor—can’t hurt, either.

Make It Modern - Photo 3 of 3 -

Oh, and that Neutra house in the hills of L.A.? It hasn’t been published since 1959. We welcome it back—no longer a "poor pink house" but rather the warm, modern home that Neutra originally envisioned.   

Amanda Dameron, Editor-In-Chief
amanda@dwell.com / @AmandaDameron