Last autumn I entered a kitchen design contest by “re-imagining” a new kitchen for Rudolf Schindler’s iconic 1926 Lovell Beach House. The house originally had a small domestic service wing with separate kitchen; my idea was to integrate the entire downstairs space to fit in with today’s kitchen/family room planning (all one big room), something that Schindler pioneered and perfected with later projects in the 1930′s and beyond. Imagining one soaring space with views out to the ocean, I started planning the furniture and layout for this small but incredible little house.
First, some details of Schindler’s masterpiece. The Library of Congress National Engineering Record has a full set of plans online; I based my design on these plans. The house is designed on a regular grid, with 5 huge cast-in-place concrete structural frames providing the backbone of the design. The window walls are completely free and lay in and outside of the structure to bring in the breeze and view of the ocean beyond. The kitchen is all the way at the back, above the garage. Looking at the plans and sections below, you can get an understanding of how the house is put together.
The long facade (west) faces the end of a small street; the house is sited on a corner lot deep on the Newport Beach (California) peninsula. The upper deck was originally sleeping porches but the client had them closed in a few years later as the area became developed and privacy became an issue.
The indoor and outdoor living spaces interlock and weave around the structure. The window treatments give the house a De Stijl feel, or perhaps a little nod to Frank Lloyd Wright’s decorative treatments. Perhaps these embellishments turned contemporary critics cold, as the house was not well received among the profession despite its incredible modern structural concept.
This section shows how the double-height main living space allows a railing at the sleeping porch level. Of equal importance to Schindler/Philip Lovell was to preserve as much of the site below the structure. Hence, the raised beach house was born; raising the viewpoint for a great view of the ocean, preserving a sandy lot below and leaving room for the motor carriage below.
The house has remained private within the Lovell family since it’s construction, which means very few photographs exist of the interior.
I found some drawings of the divider/seating unit on the LOC site. Schindler was to develop many intricate and important built-in furniture features throughout his career – the Lovell Beach House is an important early development in shaping interior space. These details helped me envision how I wanted to detail the kitchen furniture.
Architectural Record published the house in the 1920′s; here is an interior view of the dividing wall, with kitchen space beyond, under the planter. Also visible is a small servery window for which, presumably, the domestic help passed the meals into the dining area.
So – with the introduction complete, on to my design for the kitchen.
I knew early on that I wanted to remove the wall between the dining area and service. I retained the 6′-6 header across my opening (seen in picture above as the height of the exterior window), and the planter unit above. A peninsula with breakfast seating faces back into the kitchen, while allowing a comfortable “assembly space” around the chef for informal gatherings. A TV and electronics setup is directly opposite the breakfast seating. The main storage and appliance areas are at the rear (left of plan), with main sink on the window wall above.
The original foyer space must have been very cramped, so I wanted to address this “first impression” and open it up as casual as possible. Little storage for beach gear or luggage was originally provided, so I took into account for some storage on elevation D, adjacent to the TV. How my design would look upon entry:
I placed a bench, mirror and shoe/bag storage at the extreme left. This element was integrated with a tall cabinet to house the TV and audio equipment. I envisioned the owners sitting at the breakfast bar or dining space with the TV up high, but opposite the beach view out the south and west windows. Storage cubbies would be demarcated for each family member, with electronic charging and key/sunglasses storage in each box. Because of the central location and the electronic functions, this area became known as the “command center”. The elevation (click for better detail):
The view below is from the corner where the original “servery window” was between the old kitchen and dining space:
From this angle, the wall of appliances is visible – but would be out of view from any point in the main living space, in order for the kitchen to “fit in” and still feel like built-in furniture. The countertop would be a concrete-color quartz, with a drip edge at front and a raised 10cm backsplash at rear. Behind this short wall are storage boxes with aluminum hatch doors which would have electrical receptacles inside. Small appliances would be stored in these boxes, as well as knives and other kitchen tools. In the foreground is an herb garden against the window.
The cabinet construction would be completely custom in white oak veneer, with a Schindler-esque finger cutout in the corner of each door or drawer. With the wall of existing windows preventing upper wall cabinets (thankfully…), I made a new open shelf servery at the rear in the north corner. An opposite bar complete with sink, wine cooler and glass storage makes it possible for family members to come into the space for drinks and not disturb the main meal-making area of the large sink and peninsula.
I elected to use a downdraft vent with an induction cooktop to keep a sleek look and take advantage of the open space below for the exhaust. With outdoor cooking and dining available all year in southern California, the kitchen would likely not be used for extensive meal making on an everyday basis. An elevation view of the cooking peninsula:
A view back to the cooking peninsula from the back of the kitchen shows how the view now extends beyond the living room, deck and out to the ocean view beyond.
The servery and bar shelf storage is shown above. Where utility is not needed (as on the servery at left), the furniture is all wood and is shaped a little more expressively to honor Schindler’s original details.
This was an intensely satisfying project to research, envision and complete. I picked up every available book on Schindler’s work available, including early monographs and the latest critical evaluations. I contacted the Schindler archivists at UCSB for additional material and was given a copy of the 1920′s Architectural Record article to help in my study. Although I did not take any prizes in the competition, I now have a very deep appreciation for Schindler’s work. I hope to take some time on my next trip to California to tour every available Schindler building and continue my study of this singular, modern architectural genius.