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A Filmmaker's Modern Los Angeles Outpost

A Filmmaker's Modern Los Angeles Outpost

Julius Schulman's original photography of the Troxell residence captivated the world. Particularly enchanting is its master suite that cantilevers spectacularly out into space, making the house appear to float above downtown Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean.

The post-and-beam structure built for Neutra’s lawyer in 1956 is really just a horizontal bar, only one room deep, with a solid side housing the kids’ rooms and an open side accommodating the shared spaces. The master and the carport flank its narrower ends. Perched atop a hillside, below a curve in the road, the residence is barely visible to its neighbors, common split-level ramblers of the same era. Off-the-shelf industrial materials, such as steel, wood, plaster—and most significantly, glass—express the property’s ambiguity between indoors and out.

A few years ago, when the house was listed for sale by Troxell’s widow, it spoke immediately to an arcane filmmaker. With places already in Tokyo and New York, he’d spent years searching for a suitable Los Angeles outpost that would reflect his personality and demonstrate his recognition of a master’s work.

For him, maintaining Neutra’s legacy was a given, but the place needed updating to 21st-century living standards. With the weight of the modern architecture world poised to pass judgment, such toying with iconic buildings isn’t for the faint of heart.

The new homeowner met Scott Hughes at a lecture the architect was giving at SCI-Arc entitled “Big Daddy or Enzo,” applying the hot rod versus sports car design analogy to architecture. Hughes, principal of Venice-based Scott Hughes Architects, expanded the footprint to approximately 3,000 square feet, accommodating a larger master bedroom suite, using a tricky process achieved by extending the existing cantilever by a whopping 18 feet. Hughes calls it “a miracle,” and was also able to compound the larder into the kitchen, snag one of the three children’s bedrooms as a study, and fashion more ample closet space by flipping existing ones that ran the length of, and opened to, the hallway.

But most significantly, Hughes was determined to add in a 42-by-14-foot pool he’d seen in Neutra’s original plans that hadn’t been built because, as rumor has it, Troxell maintained he had the best pool in town: the For him, maintaining Neutra’s legacy was a given, but the place needed updating to 21st-century living standards. With the weight of the modern architecture world poised to pass judgment, such toying with iconic buildings isn’t for the faint of heart.

The new homeowner met Scott Hughes at a lecture the architect was giving at SCI-Arc entitled “Big Daddy or Enzo,” applying the hot rod versus sports car design analogy to architecture. Hughes, principal of Venice-based Scott Hughes Architects, expanded the footprint to approximately 3,000 square feet, accommodating a larger master bedroom suite, using a tricky process achieved by extending the existing cantilever by a whopping 18 feet. Hughes calls it “a miracle,” and was also able to compound the larder into the kitchen, snag one of the three children’s bedrooms as a study, and fashion more ample closet space by flipping existing ones that ran the length of, and opened to, the hallway.

But most significantly, Hughes was determined to add in a 42-by-14-foot pool he’d seen in Neutra’s original plans that hadn’t been built because, as rumor has it, Troxell maintained he had the best pool in town: the Pacific Ocean. What’s more, Hughes says, “The technology simply wasn’t available. Even we didn’t realize how time-consuming this would be when we began.” The pool cantilevers out from the steep site, and similar to the addition to the master suite, enhances the sense of being suspended above the world. It also naturally increases the outdoor area, with its concrete surround, ornamented by desert landscaping by Judy Kameon of Los Angeles-based Elysian Landscapes.

“The idea was to complement what was there, not supersede it. We thought of our work as polishing a Neutra gem, continually asking ourselves ‘What would Neutra do?’ and more precisely what would he have done with the new technology that’s available today,” explains Hughes, who worked with Lake Arrowhead-based contractor Richard Babcock of Richard Babcock Construction. The architect replaced the existing concrete slab—which ran throughout most of the home’s interior and was irreparably cracked—with black slate tiles. Kitchen and bathroom surfaces, which were originally of Formica, now sport CaesarStone, which accents the newly replaced cedarwood cabinetry, their original detailing duplicated. A cedarwood ceiling that forms a continuous plane throughout the house, hovering above walls separated by glass transoms, was also refinished by hand.

Roughly two-thirds of the furnishings—original Neutra designs that define the space—have been painstakingly restored, most significantly the large built-in sofa that dominates the living room, a long bookcase that now houses the new owner’s vintage comics collection and the broad dining room table, created to foil the Troxell children from kicking one another.

Adding to these, interior designer Brad Dunning, who outfitted Neutra’s Palm Springs Kaufman house, has added iconic pieces from the period set against a masculine, “wool” color palette of neutral browns and grays. A posse of experts recently tramped through during an architectural home tour, failing to detect any dramatic changes. Such a case of no recognition represents the highest compliment to Hughes who, returning to the car/architecture analogy, dubs the house a DB2 Aston Martin. Restored, of course.

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