Dotted along the undulating coast of the Golden State, these architectural marvels—designed in tune with their surroundings—are celebrated in a new book
Photography and words by ROGER DAVIES
In designing the interiors of the Segel House, decorator Waldo Fernandez respected Lautner’s original vision.
In a land of earthquakes, fires and mudslides, it’s dangerous to fall in love with a house—but houses can cast a spell on you. This is California, and of course there are surfers and sunsets and sports cars, but there is also a concentration of raw creative ambition and a passion for design unlike anywhere else. The homes in Beyond the Canyon: Inside Epic California Homes (Monacelli, $65) were created by artists of all kinds striving to push the limits, to live in extremes—of both architecture and landscape—and to experiment with ways of living in search of an idyll.
Over time the rhythms of the Golden State have become familiar, closely recorded through my camera. I’ve learned how to anticipate whether the ocean’s morning marine layer will burn off; how to account for May Gray and June Gloom; that the best light in the harsh Palm Desert arrives, as if by the flick of a switch, just after the sun falls behind the mountains, and the gorgeous glow of the dusk lasts forever; and that the winds on the cliffs above Santa Barbara will whisk a drone right into the Pacific. Though it’s fair to say that the weather near the Golden Gate Bridge is a mystery to all.
“… in California, more than anywhere else, every day is different, and no two houses are alike”
Even after more than 20 years as a working photographer, things never get dull. I see all sorts of things—pictures with presidents, any number of Oscars (and even an EGOT), and once, sex toys left out in the bedroom. Art on opposing sides of a toilet door: a Frank Stella on one side and a de Kooning on the other. I’ve seen ex-Navy SEALs who are now private security guards suddenly emerge from the bushes. I’ve seen the Maltese Falcon, sniper rifles, live rattlesnakes, dinosaur skulls, doomsday bunkers and safe rooms but never enough cats—no one ever has cats. I’ve seen bulletproof cars, a Second World War Nazi Enigma cypher machine, and a steel briefcase with foam lining cradling a 1976 BASF cassette tape containing the original Apple operating system, with the handwritten inscription, “Good Luck.”
Designed by Bay Area architect Daniel Solomon, Ca Tana sits on a hillside in Marin County.
Works by Andy Warhol, Chuck Close and Donald Judd are among the art inside Ca Tana, the home of interior designer Roger Thomas and his partner Art Libera.
From left: Nature permeates the shell-like Segel House: plants grow along board-formed, wood grain-imprinted walls and sweeping windows bring in the ocean and sky. The living room of the Shaw House in Big Sur, built by architect and conservationist Will Shaw in 1967 from lumber reclaimed from the dismantled Dolan Creek Bridge.
The original 1952 Richard Neutra-designed Serulnic House on the 6-acre Pittman Dowell property in La Crescenta sits atop a hill overlooking a thriving cactus garden.
The only two doors inside the 2009 heptagonal Pittman Dowell Residence in La Crescenta, designed by Michael Maltzan, close off a powder room and a laundry room—otherwise privacy is ensured by the angles of the walls.
“My job is to document a brief moment in the life of a home”
When I photograph homes in California, more than anywhere else, every day is different, and no two houses are alike. A midcentury modern might be nestled next to a Craftsman’s bungalow, a Spanish colonial, or a Tuscarranean (my wife’s name for the unfortunate hybrid that pops up far too often). You see homes that are loved, homes with history, passion projects and follies, often in extremes. There are houses suspended on stilts and tranquil wooden masterpieces nestled into the hillsides, expansive glass windows cut into rock, columns of Mayan Revival carvings—designs that embrace very specific landscapes, microclimates and lifestyles. Often architecture, interior design, sculpture, art and environment merge in different ways, and the dreamy California weather blurs the boundary between inside and out even further. I’m in awe of the design-loving addicts whose devotion to interiors and architecture has led to them living in—and serving as custodians of—these masterpieces.
My job is to document a brief moment in the life of a home. In time the houses will evolve into something different from what they were in the instant I caught them. They will be redecorated and relandscaped, Grandma’s knickknacks will move in, and the teenager will paint their room black. They will be sold, torn down and, as in the case of one house in this book, lost to a wildfire, but for the blink of an eye that I get to spend in these astonishing homes, they are glorious.
Feature image: The Segel House on Carbon Beach, Malibu, designed by John Lautner and built in 1979.
This story originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of C Magazine.
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