With the sort of backstory that proves truth is more fascinating than fiction, a Rustic Canyon house is brought back to life by its devoted owners.
“Take an old knife that’s nicked up but still totally functional,” says Larry Butler by way of explaining the immediate allure of his house in Rustic Canyon. “You love it because it’s been used and has a history; the cabin was filled with that.” It was also, when he first laid eyes on it, in 1999, “quasi falling apart—which to most people wouldn’t be appealing, but to me, and later on to my wife, it was something that was attractive,” he says. “We don’t like anything perfect.”
Larry, who runs his own investment company, was a bachelor renting a place nearby when he purchased the digs from actor Daryl Hannah. An absorbing backstory helped to seal the deal: Built for the 1923 silent film The Courtship of Miles Standish, the place was first owned by banker Marco Hellman, who foreclosed on the movie’s production company, and moved the stage set to its current locale, hiring Craftsman architect Arthur Heineman to convert it to a family beach house. It stood on the grounds of a 121-acre compound that was being developed as a bohemian gentleman’s retreat by pipe company owner Harry Haldeman, who christened it The Uplifters Club. Hellman’s cabin became a hangout for the fabled members-only Uplifters clan, which included the likes of Walt Disney, Clark Gable, Will Rogers and Spencer Tracy.
Steeped though it was in romance, the cabin was a victim of structural, earthquake and termite damage. It wasn’t until 2012 that Larry, now married to his wife, Marla (with whom he has three children: daughter Folbe, 10, and sons Joshua and Marshall, who are 8 and 6, respectively), decided to finally commit to the project of remodeling, and assembled an expert team: architect Chris Peck, interior designer Lisa Strong and contractor Eric Dobkin, who fought to preserve the integrity of the site.
“Though double the size of the original, it was as similar as possible in tone and spirit,” says Larry, who approved the plans for the 6,200-square-foot remodel with neighborhood historian Randy Young. “The aim was to retain authenticity without intentionally deceiving the visitor with respect to what is new and what is historic material,” adds Peck.
Dobkin sourced materials from Bitterroot Valley Log & Timber Inc. in Victor, Mont.; importing and storing the lodgepole pine logs in locations across Los Angeles and transferring them to smaller trucks for delivery to the site. For the great room, an ardent replica of the original, the stones of the fireplace were meticulously dismantled, numbered and later reassembled, along with a salvaged and restored inglenook that stands on reclaimed French oak floors. They also preserved original furniture and architectural elements throughout, including an eight-panel oil mural and the double Dutch front door. “Reusing the original wood beams, hardware, light fixtures and stone makes you feel the memory of Haldeman and his drinking buddies,” says Dobkin.
The interiors are an enthusiastic mash-up of old and new. “I need to live with contrast,” says Marla, a former fashion designer. “I never want anything too ‘too.’” Strong characterizes the aesthetic as “Dutch lowlands Death Star,” citing the mix of modern furniture and the moody interplay of dark wood alongside vintage Italian and French pieces and family heirlooms. “It has a little couture element to it too, because Marla is very refined,” she adds.
Marla likens her design instincts to accessorizing—empowering Strong to use one-of-a-kind statements as the anchors of each room: An opalescent blue-gray, surfboard resin-topped table by Elizabeth Paige Smith is flanked by Patricia Urquiola Comback chairs in the light-bathed kitchen, and stands on solid slab granite floors that Strong had leathered and rusticated. In the playroom, a vibrant Scandinavian rya shag rug offsets a plaid George Smith sofa and reupholstered vintage ’60s fiberglass chairs from Marla’s childhood home. And a vignette in the entry hall pairs an elk footstool original to the cabin with a chinoiserie table previously owned by Larry’s mother, a custom Chinese birdcage lamp and a bespoke pentagonal light fixture composed of pressed glass and brass with leather piping.
Whimsical though the current incarnation may be, the house retains its DNA as a gathering place, first and foremost. “It’s incredibly cozy,” says Larry. “My memories will be of making s’mores in the fireplace with the kids, and having parties in the great room.”
Photography by Lisa Romerein.
Written by Melissa Goldstein.
Interior styling by Lisa Strong. Architecture/Design Collaboration by Chris Peck and Eric Dobkin. Construction by Eric Dobkin.