I love houses. I am that annoying person who would stop at open houses everywhere to see how people live, with not the least bit intention of buying the property. In brief, I am the real estate agent’s worst waste of time.
Houses can tell so much about a time, a person, a life, even in the absence of their occupants. I look for ideas I can replicate in my own home or I simply fantasize about what I would do with a bathroom, where I would move a wall, how I would redo the counter tops in the kitchen if the house in question were mine. Historical houses also have a high appeal in my world as if, by inhabiting, for a brief flicker of time, the same space a ruler, a queen, a general, a collector lived in for years, I could absorb some of their thinking.
Los Angeles might not boast Hampton Court but it has its share of architectural landmarks one can spend an afternoon checking out. The latest on my list was Hollyhock House, a structure that contributed to Frank Lloyd Wright’s fame and one of the few that can be visited in our city.
Located inside Barnsdall Park and Art Center, it sits atop a Hollywood hillside, with spectacular views of the city, downtown, the mountains and “the ocean” as the docent who led our tour kept on insisting although, to see salt water, one needs powerful binoculars.
Originally commissioned by Alene Barnsdall in 1919, she lived in it for only 5 years, with her daughter Betty. Oil rich, divorced and with a daughter from a father she never named, this lady was clearly unconventional and commissioned properties to the trifecta of famous architects to be: Lloyd Wright, Neutra and Schindler.
Hollyhock was her favourite plant and the leitmotif of the house, where a stylized and pared down version of it appears as a bas-relief all around the perimeter.
If, on one hand, the house does showcase the unconventional and innovative mind of an architect ahead of his time, the current renovations under way and the state of disrepair of the grounds, make it harder to see how the whole ensemble would flow.
Geometry rules the design and the living room is astounding, with a sunken fireplace surrounded by water, high ceilings, golden walls and Eastern inspiration breathing from every corner. Each room had an outdoor counterpart, low ceilings open up into large and tall spaces and the kitchen, with its stainless steel counters, refrigeration, freezer and hot wells was a state of the art wonder. Nonetheless, the place has been renovated, added to, both by Lloyd Wright and his son, that it doesn’t feel like a home any longer.
The public park around it is pretty and you might want to bring a picnic and take the views in. For the ocean, don’t forget the binoculars.