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Tyre House: Cool elegance and the art of A. Quincy Jones

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The Tyre House, designed by A. Quincy Jones in the 1950s and recently restored by the Silver Lake architecture firm Escher GuneWardena, is a dreamy testament to Los Angeles' age of cool. Step inside the house's expansive, all-white living area and an 11-foot-high ceiling angles gracefully down toward a white brick fireplace that floats toward one end. Sliding glass doors open to a courtyard and pool on one side, to a steep driveway that disappears from sight on the other. Cork floors and a white sofa effortlessly sweeping along the wall add to the sensation of visual harmony.

Created when the more populist aims of the International Style had been infused with postwar extravagance, the room is an object lesson of how Archibald Quincy Jones designed.

“For Jones, it was not about creating form but creating experience,” said Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, the curator of “A. Quincy Jones: Building for Better Living,” which opens May 25 at the Hammer Museum in Westwood.

PHOTO GALLERY: The Tyre House, remade modern

If the experience of being inside the house was impressive 50-plus years ago, the effect is only heightened now thanks to an exacting, 6-year-long restoration by Frank Escher and Ravi GuneWardena. The sense of unadorned luxury so evident in the living area now extends to the entire house.

The restoration was no easy feat. The architects had restored John Lautner's Chemosphere house in Hollywood Hills West and are working on Charles and Ray Eames' iconic Case Study home in Pacific Palisades, but their first visits to the Jones house left them quite puzzled.

“The public spaces were beautifully designed,” Escher said. “But the private spaces were quite uninteresting.”

The conscious lack of pizazz in the large bedroom wing was especially marked. Windows were small and of inferior quality; rooms originally designated for children had morphed into dressing areas, and ugly drop ceilings had been installed in other rooms.

The contrast between stunning living areas and compromised sleeping quarters may have been dictated by the budget of Jones' client. But for Jones, the solutions came naturally. He and his architectural partner, Frederick Emmons, designed thousands of what many would call tract houses for developers including Joseph Eichler.

After some consideration, Escher and GuneWardena decided the key to reviving the Tyre House was to upend this imbalance. They would imbue the entire 3,500-square-foot home with elegance.

The architects reconfigured the floor plan of the bedroom wing, adding separate bathrooms to the three guest bedrooms and installing the same quality floor-to-ceiling windows on one side to mirror the living area. Those upgrades and others make the whole house feel like its living room: Cool reigns supreme.

None of this would have been possible without the guidance of the house's new owner, Yukiko Ogasawara, whose Tokyo-based company owns, among other entities, the Japan Times, the country's major English-language newspaper. Unlike many purchasers of Midcentury Modern houses, Ogasawara was not interested in an architectural bauble. She didn't care about resale, GuneWardena said.

When the house came up for sale, Ogasawara, then in Tokyo, received photos by Linda Janger, her real estate agent. Janger lived on the same street and knew that Ogasawara, who had completed her master's at the California College of the Arts in Oakland, loved this architectural period.

“Linda assured me that living in a Quincy Jones house would make me very happy.” Ogasawara said.

So she abandoned her plans to purchase a Wilshire Corridor apartment, and she bought the house — without ever stepping inside.

With the architects urging an upgrade of the bedroom wing, Ogasawara saw her chance to align that section of the house with the way she lived. Thus, unobtrusive new air conditioning and heating were installed. Bookshelves matching the original were added to the front study to accommodate her collection. High-tech Japanese toilets were installed in refurbished bathrooms. And one bedroom was abandoned altogether to make way for a greatly enlarged master bathroom.

That was particularly important to Ogasawara, who insisted the architects read “The Japanese Bath.”

“She needed us to understand their bathing culture,” Escher said. The bath had to be set apart from the shower. “For scrubbing you get into the shower,” GuneWardena said. “The bath is for soaking.” A soothing atmosphere was critical.

Now sliding floor-to-ceiling doors in the 18-by-13-foot master bath open onto a pond. Water bubbles over carefully positioned rocks.

Escher GuneWardena also removed a wall in the kitchen and one of the wooden screens that stood between the kitchen and the dining area. (It became a headboard in a guest bedroom.) Now Ogasawara can see from her newly designed kitchen through the dining area and into the expansive living room.

“I like homes where you live in every space almost simultaneously,” she said. It's an opening up of space — and thus of experience, Escher and GuneWardena said. They hope Jones would approve.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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