Before architect Elmer Grey designed the Beverly Hills Hotel or the
Playhouse, he took up the task of designing something far more personal: a home of his own. Starting with a woodsy lot on the western edge of Pasadena's Oak Knoll District, Grey let his desire to keep nature close drive his vision.
An Engelmann oak with a broad, green canopy became the starting point around which the house was sited. The house faces west and is surrounded by gardens and greenery that are visible from just about every room.
"It's pretty obvious that the exteriors, both in the back and the front, were key to him," says Alan Jutzi, curator of rare books at the Huntington Library who has reviewed more than a dozen of Grey's original floor plans and drawings for the house, built in 1910. "And the oak tree was a big part of the feeling and the landscaping he had in mind."
Today the Craftsman remains faithful to Grey's vision and the style he favored.
Sitting on a slight hill up a curved driveway, the massive oak is the first thing visitors see. The two-story house has a tower on the south side whose design is echoed in a front patio. The rooms are simple and to scale — no artifice of grand arches or floor-to-ceiling windows.
The side-by-side living and dining rooms, each with a fireplace decorated with vintage Batchelder tile, draw the eye straight to the backyard. Doors off both rooms open to the outdoors. The dining room leads to a renovated kitchen and a small breakfast area.
Upstairs, the master bedroom, whose walls curve gently with the house's tower, includes a sitting area and fireplace. All the bedrooms have views of the gardens.
Grey lived in the home until he died in 1963 at age 91. Three years later, Jean and John Kulli bought the home and moved in after their three children went off to college.
"My parents had moved to Pasadena in 1949 and absolutely loved the character and quality of the city, its diversity, its authenticity," says daughter Sandra Kulli, 63, of Malibu. "And this house represented what made Pasadena a great place."
It is evident that the Kullis were careful stewards of the century-old house and its grounds. Their daughter describes the house as the "heart of an extended family" where three generations from around the country would gather at the holidays.
Kulli's parents lived there until they died this year. In cleaning out a closet, she was thrilled to find the original floor plans and subsequently donated them to the Huntington.
Now, Kulli says, she and her siblings are looking for a buyer who will carry on the heritage of this historic site.