Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Von Sternberg House – Richard Neutra


I was sure I’d blogged this house before, but for the life of me I can’t find a decent post on it. (Well, apart from this one.)

This is by far my favourite house by Neutra (pronounced NOI-tra). Designed in 1934 for film director Joseph von Sternberg, director of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel.  (Von Sternberg famously insisted that there be no door locks on the bathrooms, in case a temperamental actor or actress or two decided to end it all in the stalls.)

ftsl06_neutra   “I selected a distant meadow,” von Sternberg recounted later, “in the midst of an empty landscape, barren and forlorn, to make a retreat for myself, my books, and my collection of modern art.”
    The building’s major space was a double-height living area surrounded by a balcony that was used as an art gallery. Displayed there were works by Gauguin, Kandinsky, Matisse, Léger, de Chirico, Kokoschka, Brancusi and Archipenko. Von Sternberg’s mirrored bath and bedroom, with a view of the rooftop reflecting pool, were the only rooms on the second floor.
    On the first level, east of the living area, lay a studio and kitchen, followed by staff quarters and the garages, one for regular cars and a larger one for the Rolls-Royce. A specially designed space for the owner’s huge dogs was behind the garage. To enliven the otherwise simple, aluminium-clad façade, Neutra designed—in the best Hollywood manner—a series of remarkable “special effects,” which extended into the landscape. Most prominent was the high curvilinear wall around the front patio, which emphasized the streamlined personality of the house. A shallow moat-like lily pool surrounded the wall and, in broken stretches, the entire house. A long thin wall extended from the west façade, exaggerating the house’s size and dividing the front and rear gardens.

Head to the house’s website here to see a stunning slideshow of the Julius Shulman photographs of the house and, if you don’t already know, to discover which influential novelist lived here after Von Sternberg, where she began the novel that has come to define our times – the novelist who described the house as “unbelievably wonderful.”

Later, in answering a query from a fan, she [the novelist] described it as being “extremely modern—made of steel, glass and concrete, mostly glass. So you see, I’m the kind of ballplayer who endorses only what she really smokes—and smokes only what she really endorses.”


  1. This house is great. The light, the space... This is also my favourite one. Nice post Peter!

  2. Well, I must say I never thought I'd see you endorsing modernism! I like the simple, clean lines and volumes - all very balanced. The big curved outdoor seating area jangles a bit - it works as a volume I guess, but from the inside it appears to be a massive aluminium intruder fence. Poor Ayn Rand, who is seen frolicking about in the slide show you link, is deprived of the quite majestic view by this gigantic bastard fence. I assume it was a client requirement - stop the papparazzi or something, but still, it seems to me like a huge missed opportunity.

    Still, overall a quite wonderful bit of architecture.


  3. I think this home is beautiful. In fact - I think it is quite 'sexy', and I cant explain why. It connects with me in a visceral way. It does remind me of my current home - and has influenced my thinking for some development of the site.

  4. When I was a kid I used to drive by this house, think it was on either Tampa or Wilbur in Northridge when I was a kid - it had a wonderful presence. One day it just disappeared to be replaced by a shopping center or a bunch of ranch homes. Having practiced architecture now for almost 40 years it remains one of my favorite buildings, probably because I had a personal memory.

    RB AIA

  5. The house was indeed in Northridge at 10000 Tampa Avenue. Unfortunately, it was torn down in 1972 to make way for a development. I haven't checked, but perhaps the history in Google Earth might still show an aerial view. To me, the best part of the house was not its profile with that strange section of fence but the interior and exterior views from inside. Those are a real loss.

  6. I was fortunate enough to visit Mr. Von Sternberg's wonderful house by Richard Neutra in about 1940, and the impression it made on me has remained all these years. Just simply great! Loved the moat. How could it have been torn down! That is awful. Louella E Rehfield

  7. An aerial view, as requested ...


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