Inspired by the statement “Everyone should experience strange beauty every day,” Barbara Bestor infuses every design with this attitude—from Sunset Junction’s Intelligentsia Coffee + Tea shop to the Nasty Gal offices in DTLA to Blackbirds, an 18-unit housing community in Echo Park that hit the market in June and already almost sold out.
Restorations are her beat too. Currently, she’s working on one of the city’s historical ‘holy of holies’ homes: Silvertop, designed by mid-century architect John Lautner. In honor of Bestor Architecture firm’s 20th anniversary, we caught up with Bestor to chat about channeling Lautner, architect inspirations and tongue-in-cheek concepts for Gen-X senior housing.
Using three terms, how would you describe your architectural style?
Greatest design challenge with Blackbirds?
The very complex, hilly terrain! The houses are embedded in steep grades so there is a very complicated network of retaining walls that was both burden and opportunity.
Type of person or family you envision living in one of the Blackbirds houses?
I think anyone—couple or family—who is open to being part of a small community. It’s definitely geared to this notion of urban neighborliness and proximity building community.
Congrats on the AIA award for Beats By Dre headquarters. Favorite aspect of the space?
Thank you! I like the brass walled staircase and the blue courtyard reading space. Those aspects are always a bit of a surprise to newcomers, as well to our own team.
Is it merely coincidence or something you specifically vibe with in Silver Lake that many of your recent projects are based there, such as the Silverlake Conservatory of Music, Blackbirds, and Lautner’s Silvertop house?
I have been a voluntary resident of this area since I was in graduate school and I think I’ve stayed because of the combination of amazing experimental architecture and an informal, creative lifestyle. I created my book Bohemian Modern: Living in Silverlake about 10 years ago. I still think the general notion I described about the area holds true: the history of modern architecture is eccentric, beautiful and very livable (versus the haughty, antiseptic characterization modernism had been throughout the 70s and 80s) .
Regarding the Silvertop house, is the intention to restore the original design or keep the bones intact and totally revamp the interior?
It is definitely a restoration, not a reconstruction nor a remodel! We spent several days at the Getty scanning all of the drawings ever made for the house.
There are two areas—the kitchen and master bath—that were never finished originally and then done somewhat cheaply and unusually in the early 70s. And we are reworking the interiors of those rooms but with deference to the adjacent rooms and the original plans.
Feelings about taking on such a legendary architect’s designs?
It is a fantastic learning opportunity in an architecture-geek kind of way and also very fun. We are working simultaneously on both Silvertop and a teeny tiny Lautner from the 40s—the Salkin house—and they couldn’t be more different. Yet, there is such a strong design sensibility and visual continuity with the Frank Lloyd Wright work on the West Coast. It is very exciting.
If you could channel Lautner, what do you think his advice would be on the redesign?
“Don’t mess this up!” I met Lautner several times before his death and he was very much the visionary maverick. I don’t think he would be a fan of anyone working on his masterpiece.
Advice to other architects when restoring an iconic building or home?
Think of it as an act of stewardship. You are perhaps adding another layer but don’t ever diminish or suffocate the original. The original work is the source of the historical value.
Three architects or artists, living or deceased, which inspire you most?
Alvar Aalto, Lina Bo Bardi and Frank Gehry.
Most overlooked female architects in history?
The last few years have been a boon for the rediscovery of female greats, including: Lina Bo Bardi (most recently), Julia Morgan (finally), Charlotte Perriand and Gae Aulenti.
What strange beauty have you encountered recently?
All over. I love the 18th and 19th century American wooden houses, the new buildings in the U.S. by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, the color of the taco stands in L.A. and even the funny graphics and shapes of the various new electric cars coming on the market.
Career wise, what accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
I am very proud that I did the show about Deborah Sussman* and got to know her and celebrate her work while she was around to participate, tell us stories and enjoy the acclaim!
(*In 2013, Bestor co-curated the graphic designer’s retrospective titled, Deborah Sussman Loves Los Angeles at the WUHO Gallery in Hollywood.)
Next project you’re most excited about?
A friend and I are developing an idea for senior housing for Generation X-ers called Grey Gardens. I think it is super timely and also a fun combination of housing, retail, and urban spacemaking—all of my interests!
Barbara Bestor is Principal of Bestor Architecture, founding chair of the graduate program at Woodbury University’s School of Architecture and executive director of the University’s Julius Shulman Institute. In 2013, the Floating Bungalow house in Venice, CA was featured in MOCA’s survey of contemporary LA architecture. Most recently, Bestor’s firm was awarded a 2015 National AIA Award for Interior Architecture for the Beats By Dre project. More information on Barbara Bestor can be found at www.bestorarchitecture.com