For an LA-based builder of celebrity houses, information on Robert L. Earl is peculiarly elusive. This architect has managed to establish himself as an architect to the stars while also maintaining a remarkable level of anonymity.
As such it is fitting that the Bel Air home Earl built for himself in 1963 feels particularly out of the way. Indeed, aerial pictures of the home have it appearing as the only manmade structure in site, a white oasis (replete with obligatory bright blue pool) nestled amongst the brush-filled terrain.
Moreover, the house is situated at the end of a long, private driveway with the hilltop location affording views of ocean, city and canyon.
Perhaps more interestingly, there is a distinctly old-school modernist theme to the décor. For instance, the tubular steel chairs, characteristic of earlier Bauhaus modernism, are in evidence throughout the house.
Most significantly in the presence of a pair of Marcel Breuer Wassily Chairs in the living area, flanked by a white sofa that seems to play on the shape and structure of the Cesca Chair (also by Breuer), which makes a proper appearance as the seating around the dining table.
Modernism is also in play in the overall layout of the design, which is a shining example of freshness and simplicity.
White walls throughout and a spacious, open plan layout, all on a single floor, establish an atmosphere of conspicuous calm. From the kitchen, the pool beckons through the floor to ceiling windows, just a few short steps away.
This atmosphere is carried forth with the occasional flourish of primary colour amongst a predominance of white, represented most notably in the sheer yellow front door, and the aforementioned bright blue pool.
This contrast is especially reminiscent of Cycladic Architecture. Mimicking the straightforwardness and purity of the Greek Islands lends the house a maturity that is quite impressive for an architect who was not even out of his 20s when he completed the building.
Earl sold the house only four years after moving in. Since then it has had a number of owners. Yet it appears the house remains close to the architect.
During the recent renovation of the house, Earl stepped in to guide the developers in their efforts to bring the home into the 21st century. According to the listing agent Max Nelson, he provided guidance and insight throughout the process….consulting on every design choice and decision that was made.”
Given the already established beauty of the original design, the renovation was largely cosmetic, several of the walls were taken down so as to maximise the ocean view, so that now, upon entrance to the house, you can see right out to the Pacific. Meanwhile, the original tile that covers the living and dining rooms was carried forth into several other parts of the house.
Such a sensitive renovation has really brought out the purity of Earl’s original vision and thus preserved this lovely hilltop retreat for decades to come.
Photo by Mark Haddawy