Anyone who’s driven through the Hollywood Hills has marvelled at the mansions that dangle off the mountainside, perched on nothing more than spindly support beams and thin air. What voyeurs (and commuters) will have missed, though, is a certain mid-century compound, hidden behind a gate and landscaping, that sits on a miraculous plateau –1.25 acres (54,450 square feet) of nearly flat ground.
The house, which has four bedrooms and four baths spread across around 4,500 square feet of living space, was built in 1959 by architect Eugene Kinn Choy. He designed various houses in the style of modernist architects Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler, but distinguished himself by making houses that were quite liveable.
This one, intended for a nuclear family (the Branders), was zoned to include a tennis court. The Branders were horticulturally minded though, and instead opted for a large rose garden.
When photographer Erica Martin’s parents bought the house in 1973, though, her mother, a judge, “was really into tennis”, Martin says, and duly bulldozed the gardens to install a fenced-in court. Her parents also modestly increased the house’s footprint by widening a wing; aside from enlarging the kitchen, they kept things basically the way Choy had envisioned.
“They loved the style of the house,” Martin says. “I don’t think they were thinking of it as architecturally significant – remember, for them, it was a contemporary.”
There was one exception to the house’s clean lines: Martin’s father, a lawyer, installed a “traditional Irish pub in the den”, she says. “There was wood panelling hanging down. It looked like a miniature set for Cheers.”
Her parents lived there for the next 30 years. Over time, as their needs, taste, and styles changed, they made minor interventions, bringing the house further from its original look.
Her mother died in 2005 and her father, in 2009.
Nearly a decade later, Martin, who moved in with her own family to take care of her ailing father, has put it on the market with Christie’s International Real Estate, for US$9.29 million.
Restoring the house
Before she listed it for sale, though, she found historic photos of the home and “became obsessed by restoring it, and studying Choy’s architecture”, she says. “When I really became enamoured with it, I decided, ‘OK, It’s time to do a restoration’.”
First, she removed the bar. (“Much to my friends’ chagrin,” she notes.)
Then she took on the house’s exterior. Based on the pictures she discovered (the house appeared in the Los Angeles Times’s Home magazine in 1961, photographed by Julius Shulman), Martin updated the paint (“My parents painted it darker, and it was meant to be really light and bright”), got rid of the Mediterranean tiling around the edge of the pool, and, in the process, redid the pool’s plaster.
There was also a winding concrete path embedded with stones, “a kind of flowing line that led from the back doors of the house back to the tennis court”, she says, that her parents had covered up with stucco. After removing it, “we revealed the original concrete and had it sanded over and shined up”.
The work inside was more straightforward.
The house was designed with an indoor/outdoor concept: There’s a water feature in the entryway, which is articulated by a concrete screen, and much of the house is sheathed in floor-to-ceiling glass. “The original house had this beautiful terrazzo flooring in the entryway that extended into the house,” Martin says. That floor was restored and polished so that it “has a mirror-like quality”, she says. The kitchen was updated, as was the lighting.
In a rare turn for houses of this style and age, though, many original design elements and fixtures had endured. Of four bathrooms, “two were completely intact”, she says, and three had their original fixtures and sinks. “There are still little chrome toothbrush holders that flip out from the wall,” Martin says.
The original component that didn’t make the restoration? “The rest of the house was white shag carpeting,” Martin says. “It was very hip in the late 1950s and early 1960s.” It was also, Martin noted, not very practical – particularly in the dining room. “So now we have wood floors.”
The restoration took about eight months. Martin, whose kids are going to college, is looking to downsize now. Along with the house’s four bedrooms and four baths, there’s a detached studio and a four-car garage. “Some people might want to put a second story on the house,” she says. “But I think it’s perfect.”