Barbara Bestor knows her way around a historic California property. Over the years, the principal and founder of Los Angeles–based AD100 firm Bestor Architecture has been the mastermind responsible of restorations and sensitive additions to 20th-century gems such as John Lautner’s 1956 Silvertop—a feat of engineering in Silver Lake known for its UFO-like concrete roof—and Rudolph Schindler’s 1946 Roth Residence, where she renovated the carport. So perhaps it wasn’t such a surprise when Bill Macomber and Annie Weisman Macomber—he’s a producer at Fancy Film; she’s a writer and producer of shows like Desperate Housewives and Physical—called to say they had purchased and renovated Raphael Soriano’s 1936 Lipetz House, but they needed more space.
The original plan was to create a discreet addition to the boat-shaped structure, which boasted stellar views and a glam, Art Deco vibe. (“It’s probably 20 or 30 years older than a lot of what you typically see in L.A.,” Bestor explains). But when a nearby lot went up for sale, the couple and Bestor decided to switch gears. Why not create a new structure just down the hill that could engage in a more open conversation with the petite Soriano? After all, as the couple’s two kids grew, it was beginning to feel a bit cramped. The architectural jewel box could happily serve as a novel guest house.
Not just any new build would do. Bestor and her clients wanted to create a place that would feel connected to its predecessor as well as the ground it stood on. “I wanted to extrude the hillside, in a way,” Bestor says. “To take this organic shape and make it into something abstract.” The result is an airy, indoor-outdoor structure with board-formed concrete walls and a sculptural and zigzagging white roof made from prefabricated scissor trusses. “It’s meant to look as if it’s stepping down the hill,” she explains, “a bit like a slinky.” Macomber points out another charming visual narrative: “There’s a nautical theme to the Soriano house, with its rounded prow living room, and we designed the low whitecaps of the new house to be its sea.”
The roof was covered in a reflective white vinyl material called TPO (“You might see it on a Home Depot or something,” the architect explains) that, in addition to delivering sculptural gusto, has a slew of benefits: “You can hose it down, it’s kind of fireproof, it’s light reflective so there are some eco-benefits,” Bestor says.
This line of thinking—where practicality and efficiency lay the groundwork for aesthetic marvels—is not so different from the way many of L.A.’s experimental 20th-century architects thought about their case study houses. “We’ve been restoring some of the Lautners around here,” Bestor says, “learning from the 20th century and then applying that to the 21st.” Indeed, throughout this project, Bestor does just that. The floors are poured concrete—meaning the foundation is the floor—an economical move beloved by modernists. Mirrors are used to dematerialize surfaces and emphasize the landscape beyond, a trick often used by modernist Richard Neutra. There’s a carport rather than a garage—a hallmark in Julius Shulman’s famous photos of 20th-century L.A. architecture—which extends the roof line, decreases the mass of the house, and works double duty as a shade structure and entertaining venue. And perhaps most noticeably, windows slice through the middle of the house, allowing for a sense of transparency as well as sweeping views of the mountains and reservoir, depending which direction you look (not unlike Lautner’s Silvertop). Still, the homeowners don’t have to stress about curtains or shade—by creating a roof overhang that juts out from the concrete walls, there’s never too much direct sun.
As for the insides, they are defined by 12- and 14-foot-tall, Douglas fir–clad ceilings. Weisman Macomber explains, “We wanted our home to feel quintessentially Californian: Open, airy, and in conversation with the natural environment we are lucky enough to live in.” After some consultation on fabrics and furniture with Amy Sklar Design, they decorated the place with a friendly mix of midcentury-modern classics by the likes of Eero Saarinen, Alvar Aalto, and Hans Wegner, contemporary lighting, and family heirlooms. Bestor calls the palette “pretty toned down, with pockets of big color zappers,” like the Van Gogh–inspired yellow front door, bursts of blue tiles in the bath, and the blush pink kitchen—a perfect match for its custom terrazzo countertops.
Across the house, Bestor created a slew of sleek built-ins, like the low wood bookshelf by Waka-Waka that snakes around the living space, and the clever cubby hideout in the kitchen—a special request from kids and dad, who grew up with something similar at his family home in Maine. “It’s the perfect place to read a book and listen in on adults’ conversations below,” Macomber jokes.
As California architects have long understood, the best room in a house can be outside. And that emphasis on indoor-outdoor living was instrumental to this home, where decks are installed on the front and back, the living room is doubled in the pool area, and glass walls can open up to allow easy movement between in and out. “The house feels porous in the best way,” Weisman Macomber says. “There’s little separation between inside and out.” Still, there’s privacy. Bedrooms are a step down from the main living room area, lending a more cozy and tucked in feeling. And the forest green TV room, perhaps the only space in the house that isn’t totally doused in natural light, is tucked away almost like a bunker.
Finally settled in and with pandemic-era socializing restrictions easing, Macomber and Weisman Macomber are reaping the benefits of their new home. Weekend afternoons are spent swimming and preparing dinner for guests. They take cocktails watching the sunset on the south deck and supper al fresco. “Now that people are coming over, we realize Barbara’s genius in creating open spaces that flow from the outdoors in,” Macomber says. “And when the chilly L.A. night breeze descends, we can slide the doors closed for more conversation.”