When Murray and Dolly Siegel play host to a stream of strangers who come to look over their Japanese-style bungalow in the Encino hills, they experience the mixed pleasure and duty of homeowners whose houses have special design distinction.
Murray Siegel is an architect who designed his own home, so he is more than happy to have his house included in the first San Fernando Valley home tour arranged by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “My dwelling is a labor of love,” he said, “so I’m delighted to show it off to any potential admirer.”
Siegel’s home is one of six that have been selected for Sunday’s open house tour organized by the San Fernando Valley AIA. The range in style, from severe modernism to wild eccentricity, illustrates the great variety of domestic architecture tucked away in the more affluent corners of the Valley.
All the houses are in the high ground south of Ventura Boulevard, where the views are often spectacular and the winding lanes are lushly wooded. Three of the homes on view are in Encino, two are in Woodland Hills and one is in Sherman Oaks. The oldest house on the tour was built in 1965; the most recent was completed this year.
The Siegel house, known as “Oakshadows,” is the most comfortable of the homes to be visited. Built over an active watercourse on a 3/4-acre lot surrounded by woodland, the low-lying bungalow floats on a series of cedar-pole stilts above the stream bed and a fishpond filled with koi. Deep overhangs and wide redwood decks weave around the site’s oaks and sycamores, giving the house the feeling of a spontaneous act of nature rather than a human contrivance.
The 4,000-square-foot, one-bedroom house that Murray Siegel designed for himself and his wife--"we ignored resale requirements and simply pleased ourselves"--includes a large, glass-sided living room, a family-dining room, a spacious easy-to-operate kitchen and a luxurious master bedroom suite. A separate study doubles as a guest bedroom when the Siegels’ children or grandchildren visit.
The air of easeful tranquility that pervades the Siegel house contrasts sharply with the demanding originality of the Struckus House in Tarzana.
Designed by Oklahoma architect Bruce Goff, designer of the recently opened Pavilion for Japanese Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Struckus House is composed of a series of interlocking cylinders decorated with four plexiglass domes that seem like bulging eyes.
Owner Al Struckus, who commissioned the Goff design that was completed after the architect’s death in 1982, lives alone in the four-story, one-bedroom house. His bedroom, on the top level of the main redwood cylinder, is linked with the lower levels by winding, open stairs tucked into a smaller shaft. Each level overlooks the one below, giving the modest 1,500-square-foot home a spaciousness that belies its size.
“Living in a Goff house has been an almost religious experience,” Struckus said. “It’s a very special space.”
A house in the Encino hills, owned since 1971 by Dr. Arthur Starr, offers another component in the spectrum of custom-designed Valley homes.
Designed by architect Rex Lotery in 1965, the Starr House is an exercise in textbook modernism at the peak of the style’s influence on domestic design in Southern California.
Flat roofs that appear to float free above white stucco walls, ribbon windows separating the horizontal and vertical surfaces, a severe geometric simplicity in all the details, including mitered glass see-through corners, make the Starr House a perfect example of its genre.
Tucked into the hillside, the tightly organized plan wastes little space--there are no corridors--and opens out onto intimate patios and terraces that make the main rooms seem more spacious.
“When we bought the house, our friends considered we had gone for the avant-garde,” Barbara Starr said. “After 17 years here, the style seems almost old-fashioned.”
The Starrs learned to like the house’s multiple levels, its sunken “conversation room” and isolated second-floor bedroom, which overlooks the living room below. They softened the hard modernist interior finishes of exposed concrete and stark stucco with redwood paneling. They added a pool and converted the garage into a third bedroom.
The other three houses on the tour include:
The Haptor House. This Sherman Oaks home lies in a canyon that seems remote yet is barely half a mile from busy Ventura Boulevard. Designed by Buff & Hensman and completed in 1987, the Haptor House offers a blank face to the road, but opens up within to panoramic Valley views on the garden side.
Described by the architects as “functional and sculptural,” the house was built for a working couple and their college-age son. There are extensive exterior decks opening off the living-dining area, a combined kitchen and family room, and a private master bedroom suite.
The Ishak House. The large, 10,000-square-foot Ishak House in Woodland Hills, designed by Yair Koshet and completed earlier this year, embraces its vistas with curving arms. The spacious living room features a fishpond and a piano platform. A glass elevator links the house’s three main levels.
Although the Ishak House is separated from the street by a bridge, Koshet said “the contemporary facade is designed to express the individual character of the house while blending with the traditional neighborhood” east of the Woodland Hills Country Club.
The Kamm House. This Encino residence was built in 1959 and remodeled by architect Dale Bergerson in 1985. A typical California Moderne hillside bungalow in origin, the house is now designed to display the owners’ collection of contemporary art, featuring sculptural glass. As a background to the art, the rooms are kept simple in texture, tone and color. Decks and patios open the low-lying bungalow out to the northern views.
The home tour runs from noon to 5 p.m. For tickets and information, call (818) 881-5334.
Whiteson is a Los Angeles architecture critic.