John Lautner’s 1956 Harpel House may sit in the shadow of Chemosphere, his famous flying saucer home, but it’s a shining gem in its own right.
I visited this home in 2008 as part of the MAK Center tour, organized in conjunction with the Hammer Museum‘s John Lautner exhibit Between Earth and Heaven. This home was on the tour because recent renovations by Mark Haddawy had restored the home to its original design. Lets call it a ‘make under’ because that’s exactly what it was. Haddawy removed a second story addition, stucco walls, aluminum window frames, track lighting and a myriad of other ‘improvements’ by previous owners who thought they were modernizing and improving the mid-century home. Haddawy spent two years removing those improvements and then recreated Lautner’s door knobs, light fixtures and other details, returning the home to the architects original vision. His passion as a preservationist has given great hope and pride to architectural enthusiasts, and shows what’s possible at a time when many of these homes are on the brink of being bulldozed.
Thanks to Haddawy’s restoration, I was able to observe Lautner’s use of a ‘radial’ support system for the roof. While homes like Silver Top (lower level) and the Harvey Residence feature a single central support pillar with beams radiating out, this home features multiple concrete pillars with beams radiating out, ultimately creating a zig zag pattern. This remarkable construction gives more flexibility to the placement of walls both inside and out. Thus the exterior walls are no longer ‘load bearing’. This is what allows the hallway to exist on the outer perimeter of the homes north side, joining the bedrooms with the main living area. It also allows for the creation of the homes hexagonal living room. You’ll also notice in the photos that the stone flooring in the living room is continued out onto the patio by the pool. This helps blend the indoors with the out doors because there’s no threshold line with contrasting materials on either side. Thus, stone gives way to stone, versus hardwood floors against concrete or tile. Additionally, the stones are irregularly shaped, as is the pool, which again adds to the visual continuity of the homes overall design. Ultimately, this groundbreaking design serves a larger purpose, which is to maximize the stunning views of the San Fernando Valley. It’s to bad we weren’t allowed to bring our swimming suits on the home tour, because I would have loved nothing more then to run and jump on that amazing diving board, and canon ball into the pool.