Midcentury, made modern again: A classic Pasadena house revived
More design profiles: California homes and gardens (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
When the architecture firm of Buff, Straub & Hensman designed a two-story house in 1957 for an oak-covered hillside of Pasadena called Poppy Peak, the post-and-beam structure was shy of 1,400 square feet yet felt voluminous, thanks to an open floor plan, a two-story-tall ceiling and an abundance of glass.
Fast-forward to the present day, and the house has a fresh start to the new year. Christophe Burusco, an attorney and architecture enthusiast, and Scott Lander, principal of the Los Angeles-based historic restoration firm Lander Design, have carefully erased the wear-and-tear of five decades, returning the home once photographed by Julius Shulman to its Midcentury origins. At every step, Burusco and Lander had to decide which vintage elements to restore, which to replace and at what points to depart from the past altogether.
Burusco bought the property, called the Thomson House after its original residents, in late 2010 for $853,000 and set out to remove a 150-square-foot dining room added by a prior owner that changed the lines of the house, truncated the deck and interfered with the indoor-outdoor flow of the house. Burusco and Lander also restored the board-and-batten exterior and replaced nearly all of the interior finishes.
“We didn’t just do a remodel,” Burusco said. “Every surface was restored as we brought this home back to 1957.”
Burusco and Lander studied not only the original plans but also 1960s Shulman photographs and written correspondence archived at the Getty. The city of Pasadena recently recognized the Thomson House with its 2012 Preservation Award for Restoration.
“The right person who cared about this house got it,” said Dennis Smith, who carries on a Pasadena legacy as president of Buff, Smith & Hensman Architects. “He did all the right things.”
The question of what to restore and what to replace in homes with an architectural pedigree often looms largest in the bathrooms and the kitchen.
“In my prior house, I restored the original electric Thermador cooktop and oven,” Burusco said. “I just couldn’t do that again. I needed modern appliances.”
A Sub-Zero refrigerator and an oven and range by Miele fit the same openings as the original appliances — a “reasonable choice,” said Alexander Varga, an architect board member of Pasadena Heritage, who added: “This is a preservation-minded project, but using modern, beautiful appliances also considers the home’s new owner and how he’s going to live here for another 10 to 20 years.”