Some weeks ago I spotted on Flickr some amazing pics of mid century modern houses that left me breathless.
I posted some of them on Facebook -here, here and here- and considering the huge success they had I asked the photographer if he wanted to answer few questions about HIS mid century modern house; that he recently(amazingly) renovated. Enjoy the interview and pics!
Tell us a bit about you and the story of your house. How long have you been living there, why did you buy this specific house and was it already like this when you moved in?
We learned about William Krisel, the architect, when we first rented a house he’d designed in Palm Springs back in the late 90s during a quick vacation. When I found out that he’d designed homes in San Diego, too, I immediately went about searching for the neighborhoods and hoping to find one for sale. I quickly found the neighborhood I wanted to live in, but it took another four years before I could find the right house for sale there. We bought it in March of 2004, added the pool right away, then moved out in November and spent another six months remodeling it. Moved back in around May/June of 2005.
It had been renovated twice – once in the 70s and once in the 80s but the changes were mostly superficial so it was largely intact. We made some significant changes to it in moving walls around, adding a new bathroom, adding windows to the rear, etc. We originally weren’t planning to do much but we had hired some other architects to help us with the remodel, Hector and Pam Magnus, and they convinced us to do more changes than we had originally planned. We are glad we did it. We also reached out to William Krisel, who was very gracious in his help and advice to us. We wanted to make changes, but we also wanted to keep it a modernist, 1950s house and not lose too much of Krisel’s design signatures.
Krisel’s designs for San Diego were different from what he did in Palm Springs in that they were generally a bit less open and less modernist-looking. He explained that the San Diego homes were intended as primary residences, whereas the Palm Springs homes were vacation homes.
Bill Krisel is now a close family friend and has been to the house many times. I’m sure there are things he wishes we hadn’t done, too, but he’s been gracious enough not to tell us. We were honored when he included our house in his biographical documentary film and Getty archives photographs.
I think it’s still a “Krisel house” and has enough of his character and design in it to be his. He apparently agrees.
Which are the biggest challenges and advantages of living in a mid century modern house?
Challenges: Housing maintenance and repair are the biggest challenges. Finding parts and finding competent repairmen remains a challenge. These houses were built in a time when there were still trained tradesmen. Nowadays, houses are built using pre-fab parts and can be assembled by unskilled labor. In this house, all the edges and corners have to be straight and perfect. Not easy to find people who know how to do that anymore.
Also, it’s an old house. Pipes are old and are encased in the slab. Same for electricity. And there’s no attic. So you have to be careful where you place pendant lamps because you’re putting a hole in the roof every time you do! Not much insulation.
Thankfully, we live in a place where the temperature only varies between 60 and 80 degrees F all year. So we don’t need AC and we rarely use the heater. If we lived in a place with extreme weather, all those windows and that thin roof may be a problem. But here, it’s not.
Advantages: It’s remarkably easy to keep clean. We do everything ourselves. And the house is small at less than 1600 square feet. But everyone thinks its much bigger because it’s so well designed and efficient. Having those glass walls means there’s so much natural light, we never turn lights on unless it’s evening.
It was a ‘green’ house long before anyone knew about such things. Even when we’re inside, we feel like we’re outside. We love that. It flows well, and it’s perfect for entertaining. But it’s also comfortable with lots of little intimate spaces for when you want that.
Which architectural elements do you like the most of your house?
My wife would probably say the kitchen, because she spends all of her time in there and loves it.
For me, I love the original fireplace and living area, and also the wall of glass to the backyard.
Where did you buy the furniture?
We have a mixture of vintage mid century modern pieces that we’ve collected over the years (from friends, thrift shops, estate sales, design shops) and some new, licensed reissues. We’re always on the lookout for new pieces.
Is there a specific designer from the mid century that inspires you?
I think William Krisel is one of the few, truly successful architects/designers of the mid century modern time that successfully realised the promise of modernism – to bring good design to the people. But there are others, too. We love Lautner, too, and also the work that Jerrold Lomax did for Craig Ellwood. As far as furniture designers go, I’d have to say George Nelson is my favorite, along with Finn Juhl.
I’ve never found any deals yet on vintage Juhl pieces, but we have some Nelson in our house. My daughter’s bedroom has several, for example. The Danish designers seem to get a lot of play with us, in general. Arne Jacobsen, Juhl, Kjaerholm…
Last question: if you had an unlimited budget, which design piece of furniture would you buy?
Hard to pick just one. Perhaps a Finn Juhl chair (model NV-53) like the ones Harley Earl had in his office at GM, or a Kjaerholm PK-80 daybed.