The Greatest Mid-Century Modern Houses in California

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Case Study House #10 (Kemper Nomland)© Stephanie Kloss, courtesy of Lumas

From Frank Sinatra's residence to Palm Springs City Hall, Stephanie Kloss photographs the best homes the City of Dreams has to offer – with an unexpected twist...

Stephanie Kloss is a German photographer with a penchant for mid-century design, so naturally, her passion pulled her to the one place where the very best examples can be found – sunny California. The wealth and tastes of Hollywood’s Golden Era stars, combined with the warm climate, made LA the hot-spot for architectural experimentation. “Los Angeles, California is a city of dreams, both large and small. And mine too: I’ve always wanted to photograph the mid-century modern houses there, selected icons of modernity,” Kloss told us. I was particularly interested in the residential buildings by Richard Neutra, John Lautner, and Albert Frey.”

Begun as a measure taken to counteract a post-war housing crisis caused by the return of millions of soldiers from the Second World War, Arts & Architecture magazine sponsored architects including Raphael Soriano, Craig Elwood, Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig and Eero Saarinen to come up with fresh styles of housing that could establish a new modernity in the way people lived – spurring a stylish architectural revolution that quickly spread across the country.

Kloss set out to capture the charm and sophistication of these luxury homes, shooting them all with her Linhof medium format analogue camera, giving the pictures an alluring vintage grainy and washed feel – they could be taken straight from the pages of a 1940s magazine. Fortunately, most of the home-owners were happy for her to enter their properties, though she did run into a few problems along the way: “I would have loved to get inside Richard Neutra’s Lovell House and Kaufmann House, but I couldn’t get in contact with the owners,” Kloss explains. ”The Stahl House in LA only wanted to sell their own photos, and in Palm Springs, there were buildings I would have liked to photograph but didn’t have an opportunity to get permission." Not everybody was quite so secretive, however. “Mr. Goldstein was present during our shoot, but was as relaxed as if he didn’t even see us. He just made some popcorn and watched a baseball game on his giant flatscreen TV.”

Armed not only with her camera, Kloss took her longtime friend and collaborator Anne Retzlaff, a Berlin-based choreographer and dancer, to pose as a living model in the pictures. “I met her while I was editing RP Kahl’s arthouse film Bedways – she was dancing in one of the scenes,” the photographer says. “We’ve been friends ever since and have collaborated on various projects. In her dance pieces, she likes to search for the connection between body and architecture, as she did in her solo performance Abandon Window at the opening of the Neue Meisterhäuser at Bauhaus Dessau. That’s why she’s in these pictures as a ‘living sculpture,’ a little bit like a ghost of old times...” And what does Kloss have her lens set on next? “I’d definitely like to work with postmodern structures from the 80s, but I’m always very interested in Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings from the 20s.”

With thanks to gallery Lumas.