Restoring the Eames House and Silvertop in Los Angeles

Lautner’s Silvertop, fully realized in 2019.
Photo: Tim Street-Porter

The good life was never meant to last this long. Not, at any rate, the version enshrined in modern homes that dot Los Angeles’s premium hillsides and made Southern California a research center for domestic living. The home-as-lifestylelaboratory was a specialty of mid-century architects, who fussed over their creations, took risks on new technologies, and cared more about staying one step ahead of the present than about how their designs would fare in the future. I recently visited two of those houses, John Lautner’s Silvertop in Silver Lake and Charles and Ray Eames’s Case Study House No. 8 in Pacific Palisades, and came away excited and reassured that another generation is working to preserve those architectural experiments and at the same time keep their improvisational spirit alive. It’s not an easy trick.

The Eames House is celebrating its 70th birthday: Charles and Ray built it in 1949 on a shaded hillside that slides down to the ocean. It’s a two-story steel-framed shed, enclosed in double-height glass walls that are interrupted here and there by large, brightly colored panels that give the exterior the quality of a live-in Mondrian. They seem not to have thought much about what it would be like to grow old there: The upstairs sleeping quarters are reached by a spiral staircase, which looks like a work of Minimalist sculpture but was actually ordered from a boat-supply catalog.