Ok, this one isn't technically "midcentury," but if it wasn't for the Lovell Beach House, the MCM we know and love might look a little different. So it's more of a MOD Monday today on claass HAUS.
Remember the Lovell Health House? Well, Dr. Lovell had impeccable taste in architecture because the well-known naturopath also owned a house on Newport Beach designed by none other than Richard Neutra’s partner/frenemy Rudolph Schindler. And its no coincidence that two of the most significant works of early modernism in the United States happened to be commissioned by the same progressive practitioner (we would call him a "lifestyle guru" today.) Lovell's theories on healthy living, fitness, and vegetarianism would have a profound impact on Southern California, while his pair of houses by two of the most influential Modernists would alter the course of American architectural history.
If you had to know ten works of modern residential architecture in the United States, the Lovell Beach House would definitely fall at the top of the list. Completed in 1926, the levitating white cube is situated on a small lot in a dense neighborhood along Newport Beach's Balboa boardwalk. Architect Rudolph Schindler, who had arrived in America in 1914 and worked with Frank Lloyd Wright for several years before focusing on his own work in L.A., designed the house for Lovell as an embodiment of space architecture theory. For Schindler, space remained the defining principle of design, and as the Lovell House unfolds, space is inventively created and shaped by materials and form.
To maximize the ocean views while still retaining privacy, Schindler designed the Lovell Beach House as a raised residence with a playground and parking on the ground floor and the main living areas hovering above the street. Five freestanding concrete frames, each resembling a square figure eight, give the two-story volume its distinctive appearance, while the exposed structural skeleton allows Schindler to play with shape and manipulate living space. Centered on the front facade, large staircases weave in and out of the exposed frames, daring the viewer to experience the rest of the residence. The interior is defined by a two-story glass-fronted living room that allows the warm California light to filter into the space and maximizes the site’s dramatic vistas. Schindler also provided flexible outdoor areas like a covered sleeping porch (now enclosed) and a sun deck that catered to Lovell’s passion for exercise, sleeping outside, and nude sunbathing.
Inspired by the naturopath's concepts of healthy living, Schindler designed a home that gave Lovell’s social concepts a dynamic architectural form. Schindler’s play with light and volume made the house a master class in the poetry of spatial experience. The architect's design, almost cubist in approach, defined space through form to dramatic effect, while his innovative use of concrete, predating Brutalism by three decades, allowed for the independent treatment of walls and an overall formal plasticity.
During Rudolph Schindler’s radical career, his work often existed on the fringes of the narrowly defined International Style. But his architecture, inventive in materiality, spatially complex, and upliftingly light, is quintessentially modern, and his Lovell Beach House remains one of the most canonical works of residential Modernism. Today, the house is still used as a private residence, and only rare tours are granted to the public. But the Lovell Beach House continues to be an impressive, forward-looking architectural vision, one that looks, I suspect, just as elegantly radical as it did in 1926.
You can read more about Schindler's very interesting life and career here.
Top Image- Historic American Buildings Survey, Creator, R M Schindler, Philip M Lovell, and Leah Lovell. Lovell Beach House, 1242 West Ocean Front, Newport Beach, Orange County, CA. California Newport Beach Orange County, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, ca0448.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.