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.)
“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.”