Barbara Bestor knows her way around a historic California building. Over the years, the director and founder of Los Angeles-based AD100 firm Bestor Architecture was the mastermind responsible for restorations and sensitive additions to 20th-century gems such as John Lautner’s 1956 Silvertop—an engineering feat in Silver Lake that known for its UFO-esque concrete roof—and Rudolph Schindler’s 1946 Roth Residence, where she renovated the carport. So maybe it wasn’t such a surprise when Bill Macomber and Annie Weisman Macomber – he’s a producer at Fancy Film; she is a writer and producer of shows like Desperate Housewives and Physical– called to say they bought and renovated Raphael Soriano’s 1936 Lipetz house, but needed more space.
The original plan was to make a discreet addition to the boat-shaped structure, which offered stunning views and a glamorous Art Deco atmosphere. (“It’s probably 20 or 30 years older than a lot of what you normally see in LA,” explains Bestor). But when a nearby lot went up for sale, the couple and Bestor decided to switch. Why not build a new structure just down the hill that could have a more open conversation with the frail Soriano? After all, as the couple’s two children grew up, things started to get a little tight. The architectural jewelry box would like to serve as a new guest house.
Not just any new building would do. Bestor and its clients wanted to create a place that would feel connected to its predecessor and to the ground it stood on. “I wanted to extrude the slope in a way,” Bestor says. “To take this organic form and turn it into something abstract.” The result is an airy, indoor-outdoor structure with board-formed concrete walls and a sculptural and zigzagging white roof made of prefabricated scissor trusses. “It’s meant to look like it’s going down a hill,” she explains, “kind of like a slinky.” Macomber points to another charming visual story: “The Soriano house has a nautical theme, with its rounded bow living room, and we designed the low white hoods of the new house to resemble the sea.”
The roof was covered in a reflective white vinyl material called TPO (“You could see it at a Home Depot or something,” the architect explains) which, in addition to delivering sculptural enthusiasm, has a whole host of benefits: “You can Hose down, it’s kind of fireproof, it’s light reflective, so there are some ecological benefits,” says Bestor.
This mindset — where practicality and efficiency lay the foundation for aesthetic wonders — isn’t all that different from the way many of LA’s experimental 20th-century architects thought of their case study homes. “We’ve restored some Lautners around here,” Bestor says, “learning from the 20th century and then applying that to the 21st.” Indeed, throughout this project, Bestor does just that. The floors are poured concrete—meaning the foundation is the floor—an economic move favored by modernists. Mirrors are used to dematerialize surfaces and emphasize the landscape behind them, a trick often used by the modernist Richard Neutra. There is a carport instead of a garage—a feature of Julius Shulman’s famous photographs of 20th-century LA architecture—that extends the roofline, reduces the mass of the house, and doubles as a shade structure and entertainment venue. And perhaps most notably, windows cut through the center of the house, providing a sense of transparency and expansive views of the mountains and reservoir depending on which direction you look (not unlike Lautner’s Silvertop). Still, the homeowners don’t have to worry about curtains or shade – by creating an overhang that protrudes from the concrete walls, there is never too much direct sun.