This week, I came across a great quote from the Chinese poet, Lao-tzu. "The reality of the building does not consist in the four walls and the roof, but in the space within to be lived in." There is a spirit that certain buildings possess and the architects that are able to make this emotional connection are truly artists. The legendary mid-century architect, Cliff May, is among them. Known as the "father of the California ranch home"and for his ability to perfectly blend the indoors with the outdoors, May melded new 20th-century concepts in architecture with inspiration from California's Spanish Mexican ranchos. Through this combination of ideas and his own unique approach to architecture, he developed a design language that was all his own.
All photographs by Jeremy Samuelson
Located in West Los Angeles, the Skylight house, built in 1949, is a great example of his trailblazing spirit and willingness to push boundaries. I was excited to see a feature on this home in a recent issue of Metropolitan Home and see how it was recently updated by L.A. design/build firm, Marmol-Radziner.
The home is considered to be May's most experimental house. The motorized skylight, shown above, was at the center of the home with four posts that supported the roof. At the time it was built, there were no major interior walls. Instead, twenty-five, two-by-four-by-six mahogany cabinets were on concealed rubber wheels and could be arranged in whatever combination the owner felt suited his lifestyle. After two years, Cliff May moved out and the next owner decided to fix the cabinets. May admitted that the idea of such a flexible space was extreme, but the experiment did contribute to later successful ideas in his architecture.
Marmol-Radziner took on the project, reversed the bad design decisions that had been made over the years, and revived the spirit of Cliff's original concept. While there are now full-height walls and new stationary cabinetry, it still has a strong connection with the landscape, an open concept, and maintains the unique quality of light throughout the home. It was this quality of light that inspired the purchase of the home by the current owner, Robert Richardson. An academy award-winning cinematographer, Richardson has experienced much success this year with Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds and Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. He knows a thing or two about good lighting and the home captures a perfect balance between light and dark. Even on an overcast day, the skylight showers the space with daylight and the wooded landscape casts shadows and creates depth.