Pretty as a Picture

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By Kelly Vencill Sanchez and Dwell
Old photos of a Neutra home in its heyday inspire a plan for its rebirth.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Tyler Lemkin never dreamed he might one day own a Richard Neutra house. So when he and his wife, Margaret, stumbled upon a listing for a home by the legendary Southern California modernist, he jumped at the opportunity to view it. "I’d never actually been inside a Neutra," he recalls. "I figured the open house might be my only chance."

As soon as the couple saw the interior, Tyler considered their real estate search over. Built in 1956 for physicist Dr. Fred Adler and his wife, Alicia, the 1,925-square-foot house is perched high in the Crestwood Hills enclave of Brentwood, offering views that stretch from Downtown L.A. to the coast.

Margaret, known as Marge, was less enthusiastic. She loved the neighborhood, but the home’s interior was dark, and nearly every surface was covered in pink: pink carpet, pink paint, pink wallpaper, pink draperies—even a pink ceiling. Obscuring the back patio was an A-frame structure that enclosed the pool—itself a later addition—while a pergola over the front door also blocked the light. "It was hard for me to envision what the house could look like," she says. "But then we saw those photos and we could imagine what you could do to bring it back to its original style."

Pretty as a Picture - Photo 1 of 12 -

Those photos were five images that Julius Shulman had shot soon after the house was completed. Studying them gave the couple a roadmap for how to proceed. "All it needed was a clean-up, really," Tyler says. "We just needed to pare things back a bit."

Pretty as a Picture - Photo 2 of 12 - Set high in Crestwood Hills, Richard Neutra’s 1956 Adler House underwent a faithful restoration by Tyler and Margaret Lemkin. Using archival photos by Julius Shulman as a guide, they set out to refresh as many original details as possible, such as a built-in bench. 

Set high in Crestwood Hills, Richard Neutra’s 1956 Adler House underwent a faithful restoration by Tyler and Margaret Lemkin. Using archival photos by Julius Shulman as a guide, they set out to refresh as many original details as possible, such as a built-in bench. 

Once the house was theirs, the couple delved into Neutra’s work in earnest, a search that took them to the Shulman archive at the nearby Getty Research Institute. There they discovered nine more black-and-white photos of the home from 1956.

Pretty as a Picture - Photo 3 of 12 - A painting by Karl Benjamin hangs in the dining area beyond. The living room features a Noguchi Rudder table and artwork by Tony DeLap.

A painting by Karl Benjamin hangs in the dining area beyond. The living room features a Noguchi Rudder table and artwork by Tony DeLap.

Their first task was to eliminate all that pink, a move that immediately made the house feel more open and expansive. Stripping away the dated decor also heightened the interior’s transparency—from room to room as well as to the panorama just outside.  

Pretty as a Picture - Photo 4 of 12 - Cabinetmaker Allan Luster designed the dining table, which sits beneath a George Nelson pendant. 

Cabinetmaker Allan Luster designed the dining table, which sits beneath a George Nelson pendant. 

While most of the previous renovations—an extra bedroom and the expanded living room—didn’t disrupt the home’s original lines, the pool enclosure posed a thornier challenge and added months to the project. "It was constructed way better than we’d thought," Tyler explains. "I remember calling Marge at work—she was ready to cry, because we thought we were going to be stuck with the roof or the steel supports in our backyard." But contractor Roderick McGrew came up with a plan to demolish the massive structure and remove the supports to give the couple a welcoming outdoor pool and deck.  

Pretty as a Picture - Photo 5 of 12 - In the kitchen, the couple added a skylight and replaced blue Formica counters with white quartz, but they kept the cabinetry installed in the 1980s and a vintage Thermador bread warmer.

In the kitchen, the couple added a skylight and replaced blue Formica counters with white quartz, but they kept the cabinetry installed in the 1980s and a vintage Thermador bread warmer.

The Lemkins then turned their attention to the interior woodwork. The built-ins in the master bedroom were in good condition, but the cabinetry in the dining area had all been pickled. Allan Luster, a friend and cabinetmaker, set about reskinning every surface. "We thought it would take about ten days, and it ended up taking three weeks," Tyler remembers. "It wasn’t so much about taking the veneer off and putting new veneer on; it was about making the cabinets straight. I think Allan took each door on and off two or three times." Luster also restored the living room’s built-in bench and constructed a clean-lined dining table.

Pretty as a Picture - Photo 6 of 12 - Luster also restored the dining room woodwork, which became warped after an earlier remodel.

Luster also restored the dining room woodwork, which became warped after an earlier remodel.

Whenever the couple hit a snag during the renovation, they turned to color photos of Neutra’s Staller House—which was built just a year before the Adler House, though on a far grander scale. "It was important to us not to go incredibly extreme with the restoration," Tyler notes. "We didn’t want it to feel sterile." Livability also guided their sensitive update of the bathrooms as well as the kitchen, where blue Formica counters were replaced with crisp white quartz and a skylight was added. 

Pretty as a Picture - Photo 7 of 12 - Only a partial covering remains over the patio off the living and dining rooms. "It’s amazing how light and airy the house is now compared to how drab and dark it felt when we first moved in," says Tyler, an art advisor. The three-ring planter is by Eric Trine.

Only a partial covering remains over the patio off the living and dining rooms. "It’s amazing how light and airy the house is now compared to how drab and dark it felt when we first moved in," says Tyler, an art advisor. The three-ring planter is by Eric Trine.

Now joined by their baby daughter, Lucille, the Lemkins are learning to live in a house with so many windows. As Tyler explains, "We realized after having my in-laws come to stay that we probably needed to get some blinds, because you can see from the dining table right into the master bedroom."

Pretty as a Picture - Photo 8 of 12 - Roscoe, the couple’s English bulldog, enjoys the sun on the covered deck that connects the living room to a bedroom that was added before they arrived. It’s now occupied by the Lemkins’ daughter, Lucille.

Roscoe, the couple’s English bulldog, enjoys the sun on the covered deck that connects the living room to a bedroom that was added before they arrived. It’s now occupied by the Lemkins’ daughter, Lucille.

The airy interiors feature a growing collection of midcentury furnishings, along with a revolving array of works by established and up-and-coming artists such as Raymond Pettibon, Hannah Perry, Alex Weinstein, and Petra Cortright. "We wanted the art to be the dominant source of color in the home," says Tyler, an art advisor. Once a year he hosts a cocktail party at the house, during which he exhibits new works. But no pieces are more precious than the quintet of black-and-white Shulman photos hanging outside the guest bedroom—a reminder of Richard Neutra’s original vision for a landmark that has once again become a home. 

Pretty as a Picture - Photo 9 of 12 - Tyler relaxes in the living room, which is visible through windows from both the rear patio and the master bedroom. "At night when we’re entertaining outside, the house lights up like a jewel box," he says. 

Tyler relaxes in the living room, which is visible through windows from both the rear patio and the master bedroom. "At night when we’re entertaining outside, the house lights up like a jewel box," he says. 

Pretty as a Picture - Photo 10 of 12 - Situated in a built-in cabinet, a folding vanity in the master bedroom remains as it was when the home was built. "We knew that with some work, the house could be brought back to a clean and simple classic modern home," Tyler says.

Situated in a built-in cabinet, a folding vanity in the master bedroom remains as it was when the home was built. "We knew that with some work, the house could be brought back to a clean and simple classic modern home," Tyler says.

Pretty as a Picture - Photo 11 of 12 - <span style="line-height: 1.8;">Contractor Roderick McGrew was tasked with removing the massive A-frame structure that the former owners had added to enclose the rear patio and the pool. "Removing it took three times as long as we thought it would," Tyler recalls. McGrew also redid the deck and installed wood floors throughout the interior.&nbsp;</span>The deck commands panoramic views of the city and the ocean in the distance. The lounge chairs are from IKEA. &nbsp;

Contractor Roderick McGrew was tasked with removing the massive A-frame structure that the former owners had added to enclose the rear patio and the pool. "Removing it took three times as long as we thought it would," Tyler recalls. McGrew also redid the deck and installed wood floors throughout the interior. The deck commands panoramic views of the city and the ocean in the distance. The lounge chairs are from IKEA.  

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