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Before and After: Rediscovering a forgotten John Lautner in Echo Park

It seems fitting that fashion designer Trina Turk — who says her cheerful, distinctive clothing line “reflects the optimism of California, not constrained by tradition” — would end up in a similarly airy home by innovative Midcentury architect John Lautner.

Atop an ocean-view acre in Echo Park, with glass walls and a floating V-shaped roof, the 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom home was likewise not bound by tradition when it was built in 1948. According to one account, the term “odd” appeared on the city building plans.

The journey that led Turk to the home was also offbeat. Turk and her late husband, Jonathan Skow — the force behind the eye-catching Mr. Turk men’s fashion line, who died last year after a body-surfing accident in Hawaii — became aware of the home when it came up for sale in 2014. The couple was shocked because, as members of the Los Angeles Conservancy and connoisseurs of Midcentury homes (they have purchased and restored versions in Silver Lake and Palm Springs), they had never heard of it. And, Turk said, they had been on “a million” home tours.

As it happened, the house was somehow not included in the ledger of Lautner-designed homes, which can fetch great sums. In 2014, Gwyneth Paltrow and her then-husband, Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin, bought what some considered a “lesser” Lautner home in Malibu for $14 million.

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This one, designed and built for developer Jules Salkin between the time Lautner apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s and the time he got his architecture license in 1952, sat under the radar for decades. When the longtime owner died, her children decided to sell. By that time, the home had been a rental for years and suffered water damage — the soaring roof design, the unmaintained glass walls and doors, and the slab-on-grade foundation that had settled all allowed flooding during rains.

At the broker’s open house, Turk and Skow imagined the fun of restoring the home, while others in their earshot deemed it a disaster — even with an asking price of $999,000. The couple offered $1.2 million, along with a letter to the heirs describing their plans to restore Lautner’s original intent, and won the bid.

They hired contractor Marshall Knoll of Knoll Design Build and architect Barbara Bestor, who had designed showrooms for the couple and who led the restoration of the famed Lautner Silvertop home in Silver Lake. Skow oversaw the Echo Park project with input from Turk, a methodical process that took two years. The diligence paid off, though, with the L.A. Conservancy bestowing a Preservation Award in 2018, saying the finished product “exemplifies great stewardship; it’s preservation done right,” and a Historic Preservation Citation the same year from the American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles chapter.

In the renovation, Skow and Turk’s team extended the roof to drain away from the house, and leveled the foundation. Some of the leaking glass walls had been replaced with wood over the years; they restored those with high-efficiency glass. They also restored the interior redwood walls and brought the original floor plan back to life, which included removing a bedroom fashioned from the carport. They upgraded the mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems and added solar panels. The kitchen got new cabinets and Turk talked Skow into the black Corian countertops he at first resisted.

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The couple furnished the home with cool vintage pieces, and Skow used the house for his office and for hosting out-of-town guests. Turk always considered the home “too small for two people who also work together.” But now that she’s on her own, she has decided to move into the house and see how she likes it. She says she’s captivated by the scent from the eucalyptus leaves swaying overhead.

“It takes me back to my childhood, kind of like I’m at camp,” she said. “Even though you’re in the city, it doesn’t feel like it. It’s very airy. You don’t feel confined.”


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