19 Laudable Midcentury Modern Renovations in Los Angeles
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19 Laudable Midcentury Modern Renovations in Los Angeles

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By Kate Reggev
These thoughtful remodels take on the daunting task of preserving the homes’ marvelous midcentury roots.

With residences by the likes of Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood, Pierre Koenig, and A. Quincy Jones—to name just a few—dotting the landscape, Los Angeles is no doubt a globally known destination for masterful midcentury homes. Thankfully, today’s stewards of these treasured houses have risen to the challenge of preserving and renovating them for modern living. We’ve gathered our favorite midcentury modern renovations in L.A. to celebrate the city’s architectural heritage.      

A Fresh Dose of Color Livens Up This Midcentury in Los Feliz

How a highly productive collaboration among a trio of creative Angelenas—and a good dose of Barragán—turned a dark and beleaguered midcentury house into a family home for the ages. The resulting design acquired its own flow, full of colorful narrative, spirited counterpoint, and anecdote. Now, in place of dark, disconnected spaces, outdoor rooms echo luminous indoor ones, and experimental filmmaker Laura Purdy and her family’s eclectic collections of art and personal artifacts share space with flashes of pattern and interior planes of saffron and pink stucco. 

Food blogger and commercial director Claire Thomas honors this Brentwood home’s heartwarming history. Jack and Marilyn Zuber lived in the Brentwood home for 65 years without altering anything but the wallpaper. Thomas even has photos of them digging on the site when construction first began. Out of respect for the home, Thomas tread carefully with her updates, even keeping the old drapes and using the original paint colors as a jumping-off point in researching color palettes of the era. Her approach was to "celebrate and preserve, rather than rip out and change." 

A tired midcentury in Eagle Rock with a chalky-green facade was transformed into a warm, contemporary home for a couple and their two daughters. The original single-level house had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small kitchen, a concrete deck in the backyard, and an above-ground swimming pool beside the guest house. "The first thing we did was put in white oak hardwood floors throughout the house, then add the Fleetwood sliding doors off of the living room. Eventually, we added a bedroom, extended the master bedroom and added an ensuite bathroom, enclosed the washer/dryer area, which expanded the kitchen, built a wood deck, wood fences, and then remodeled the guest house. No room was untouched by the time we were finished," says Matt, a woodworker and designer who is also the founder of L.A. handcrafted furniture brand Monroe Workshop. 

In Los Angeles’s Nichols Canyon, architect Dan Brunn was tasked with renovating a home rich in architectural history, but lacking in modern functionality. The 1957 home's closed-off kitchen was thoughtfully reimagined, maintaining the post-and-beam structure of the Edward Fickett–designed home while updating and opening up selective areas to the outdoors.

Rudolph M. Schindler’s Kallis House, recently restored by homeowners Susan Orlean and John Gillespie, is often referred to as the Austrian-born architect’s late-period masterpiece. It makes use of the "Schindler frame," an adaptation that allowed him to design large glazed openings and thin ceilings and roofs. John, Susan, and their dog, Ivy, commune in the sitting area of the master bedroom. The Wide Angle Janus sofa by Edward Wormley for Dunbar Furniture, found by John’s mother at a thrift store with the original orange fabric intact, was purchased for less than $100, including delivery. The coffee table is by Isamu Noguchi and the 9-Light LED pendant is by Sonneman.

Located in the Pacific Palisades, this home had been virtually untouched for over 40 years as it remained in the hands of the original ownership. Architect Kevin Southerland renovated it with an eye for preserving its "good bones" and gently updating it with eco-friendly materials. A new layer of painted cement board now coats the exterior, lending it long-term durability and resistance to decay. "By removing a few interior walls, reconfiguring a couple of others and opening up the kitchen/living/dining areas, we were left with a wonderfully livable floor plan with a great balance of public and private space," says Southerland. A large, open, galley-style kitchen and mirrored planes of wall paneling visually expand the home's interior perspective.

Set in the foothills of La Canada Flintridge, California, this 5,000-square-foot home was renovated by Osborn Architects and Jamie Bush + CO. At the core of the revamp was a composition of materials that creates a unique architectural presence while remaining appreciative of the landscape of the nearby San Gabriel Mountains. Interior and exterior spaces cohesively blend through vast windows with views to the surroundings, and continuous materials that wrap from the inside out. Redwood cedar warms every room, while one connecting plane of dark flooring extends throughout.

Built in 1956, this carefully updated 2,032-square-foot home with sweeping views of downtown L.A. is a true California dream, with three bedrooms, two baths, and light-filled living areas that seamlessly flow between indoor and outdoor spaces.

An architect immersed in the history of California modernism restored a nondescript Los Angeles ranch house bordering a celebrated midcentury neighborhood. Midcentury enthusiast Margaret Riley purchased a 1957 ranch with little panache or pedigree, but a plum location just two doors down from Crestwood Hills, the Los Angeles cooperative development revered for its wealth of A. Quincy Jones masterpieces. As the author of Crestwood Hills: The Chronicle of a Modern Utopia, Cory Buckner was the ideal architect for the transformation. The new butterfly roof, redwood tongue-and-groove siding, and vertical louvers help the updates feel original to the period.

Built in 1952, this home was designed by architect Albert P. Martin as his own residence after having apprenticed with Richard Neutra. Martin set the home atop challenging hillside terrain and took full advantage of the site's sweeping reservoir views with floor-to-ceiling glass and outdoor patios. When the three-bedroom, three-bathroom home hit the market in 2014, actress Kristen Wiig snapped up the property for $1.7 million and tapped Taalman Architecture and The Archers for a thorough renovation. The design team preserved the original elements of the home for authenticity while upgrading the facilities to meet modern needs.

Located just above Mulholland Drive, this updated home still maintains its glamorous midcentury vibe. Built in 1961 by celebrated Los Angeles firm Buff & Hensman, the post-and-beam abode features wraparound floor-to-ceiling glass windows and sliding doors that bring the spectacular surroundings into the minimalist interior.

In 1950, landscape architect Bill Davies tasked Canadian-born architect John Kewell to design his home in Silver Lake. The charming two-bedroom, one-bath house has been carefully maintained over the years, with minimal updates save for a bathroom remodel in 2014. This has allowed the original home’s connection to the outdoors and midcentury modern design to remain, along with its siting—it sits partly cantilevered off the hillside to take in stunning mountain and city views framed through massive panes of glass.

Once immortalized by master architectural photographer Julius Shulman and currently being considered as a historic landmark in Los Angeles County, this four-bedroom, two-bath residence was built in 1954 by builder and craftsman Ken McLeod to be his personal home. In 1964 architect Rufus Turner restored the rear after a fire damaged the living room.

For their A. Quincy Jones house in Los Angeles, architect Bruce Norelius and his partner, Landis Green, retained and restored core elements, such as the living room’s redwood paneling and concrete-block wall.

The challenge of renovating an iconic midcentury house is surely a daunting one for any architect, but apply this formula to a Richard Neutra house, and the responsibility rises exponentially. This was the situation for Los Angeles–based architect Peter Grueneisen, founder and principal of Los Angeles–based Nonzero Architecture, who inherited the task of taking on significant updates to an already-altered Neutra—the 1949 Freedman House in Pacific Palisades, California.

This midcentury gem lays in Crestwood Hills, in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, an endangered enclave of midcentury post-and-beam houses designed by A. Quincy Jones and Whitney R. Smith. Elise Loehnen and Rob Fissmer bought their house, which dates to 1950, in 2012, furnishing the living room with a Jasper sofa by Room & Board, Laccio tables by Marcel Breuer, and a wool sisal rug from Madison Flooring and Design.

In 2014, Nikolaus Kraemer and Heather van Haaften, a couple that's passionate about midcentury-modern architecture and furniture, purchased the Scott House, originally designed in 1954 by Pierre Koenig. They sensitively restored the iconic house 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."

When comedian Adam Carolla purchased his midcentury home three years ago, he did so with the intention of doing major renovations on the 1963 gem. His renovations included a complete revamp of the kitchen, new terrazzo and hardwood flooring, and a gut-renovated master suite.

An interior stylist with a soft spot for run-down homes brought this 1951 ranch in Monterey Hills back to life. When designer Tony Wei found a 1951 ranch in the Monterey Hills district of Los Angeles, the home’s mishmash of finishes—from the mirrored bar in the living room that harkened to the ’80s to the sunshine-yellow kitchen cabinets—called for an intervention. "I wanted to respect its architectural origins and its integrity as a midcentury ranch-style home," says Wei. "And from there, we just ended up trying to insert a level of design continuity throughout, whether repeating a specific tile in the various bathrooms or repeating a specific color."

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