This is little more than a snapshot and not a terrible flattering one at that but nonetheless it is one
of my treasures. It was taken during a tour of the iconic Stahl House. The house felt deeply familiar as an image and icon of California style and mid-century elegance long before this first and only visit. Designed in the late 1950's by architect Pierre Koenig in the collaboration with homeowner Buck Stahl, the house was originally known simply as Case Study House 22. As with all Case Study Houses, this was intended to be not an architectural statement but a family's home and a relatively modest one at that. The Case Study House Program, begun in 1945 by Arts and Architecture magazine, was dedicated to the use of modernist design principles to address the pressing need for low cost housing, made all the more urgent by the end of WWII and a generation's return to civilian life. In the Stahl House, the footprint is small with only two bedrooms and what is essentially one large living space. There is a pool but it was only added to the original plans as a concession to a mortgage banker who would not otherwise approve financing for the needed $37,000. (He was worried about resale, believing that the property would need at least one conventional feature to secure its value.) Even the structure's most innovative element, the living room cantilevered out over the Los Angeles basin, was the result, at least indirectly, of the Stahls' constrained budget. The couple could afford to buy the almost vertical lot because its low price reflected the fact that it was considered unbuildable. The solution of the cantilever came to Buck Stahl two years before he found in Pierre Koenig an architect willing to fully realize its design.
The house was finished in 1960, the same year that it was used as the location for a photo shoot by the great architectural photographer Julius Schulman. These are the images that remain so strongly associated with the house. They--and the house--have lost no power in the intervening years. Even so, it has been a long time since 1960. Buck and his wife, Carlotta, have passed away. The Stahl children are now well into middle age, and though none lives onsite, they do retain ownership of their childhood home. Photo shoots still take place and now provide an important source of revenue in support of the upkeep of the house. The Stahls also personally conduct small group tours which are both casual and richly informative and during which there is a palpable sense that this was and is their home. To sit on the sofa in that extraordinary living room and gaze out into the space above the city of Los Angeles is to breath in the magic of the house--and the magic of the optimistic moment from which it sprang. No doubt there will come a time when this extraordinary structure becomes more museum than home but that has not yet happened. I suggest a visit before it does. Fair warning, though, it is a splurge but one that I think you will find well worth the price.
CLICK HERE for the Stahl House website and information on tours
CLICK HERE for images from the original Julius Schulman photo shoot