Mid-century houses designed by USC graduates of its famous postwar School of Architecture share certain unmistakable qualities. Logical floor plans whose glass walls provide an easy intimacy to landscape designed as outdoor rooms. Solid construction. A simple palette of materials. No gratuitous fussiness. And a sensible approach to storage: simply, lots of it, and cleverly located. A house altogether fit for a forward-thinking, postwar life.
Even with that usual USC repertoire of ‘livability” attributes, this southeast-facing house is exceptional in how spacious and airy it feels, precisely because of its unusual footprint that allows long diagonal views through the house and gardens. In plan, the one-story house is something like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Rooms project or step back so that virtually every room, often with full-height window walls, is surrounded by either landscape, private sheltered terraces, or the rather fabulous pool. Essentially an “H” shape in plan, the long wide glass-enclosed central gallery acts like the middle part of a barbell connecting private and public spaces. The two wings of the house are gabled, with a low pitch and broad overhangs. In good Modernist fashion, above header height the façade’s gable ends are glass, affording privacy without compromising daylight.
The 3,342-square-foot (taped) residence was designed by architect William Pauli (1934 – 2002), who attended USC in the mid 1950s when the progressive faculty included a who’s who of brilliant Modernists such as landscape architect Garrett Eckbo, architect Calvin Straub, and his former students and later partners, Conrad Buff and Donald Hensman. Completed in early 1961, the four-bedroom, three-bath home was one of Pauli’s first projects as a newly independent practitioner. Eight years later, Pauli became the Director of Design for Kaufman & Broad, one of the nation’s largest home builders, focusing on U.S. and European housing before returning to private practice. He won awards throughout his career, establishing a global reputation for high-end custom residences of up to 20,000 square feet and for the design of various portions of Calabasas.
Located on a cul-de-sac, the house commands a generous half-acre lot. A series of three groups of broad steps of brick and concrete leads to the sheltered entry and terrace. Adjacent to the famed Rubel Castle above on the hill, the property rises sharply in the rear as part of the San Gabriel Mountains. Here an engineered retaining wall and custom-designed wooden fence, complemented by new terraced landscaping, provide exceptional privacy for the extensive pool, barbeque, and entertainment area that wrap three sides of the house. With its broad deck, edges of semi-circular scallops, clever underwater seating, spa, and slide, the large pool is ready for summer.
Used for some exterior retaining walls, inside Pauli continued the “Hi Desert flagstone” (likely quarried from Sydney Peak in the Coachella Valley) to clad the grand “floating” fireplace in the living room and a smaller version in the family room. This gesture unifies the indoors and outdoors; but a second strategy serves to especially weave the interior together. Recalling Japanese vernacular architecture, here a horizontal flat piece of wood trim, aligned with the tops of doors and window walls, flows throughout the house. Above this “datum line,” the walls and ceilings are white; below, a sophisticated range of colors animate and distinguish the various parts of the house. Two rooms were added in 1963, creating a private suite off the family room, and the bathrooms and kitchen were updated in 2011. The master bathroom includes a private sauna of solid cedar wood, right off a terrace leading to the pool. The entire property has also been professionally wired for internet, data, and security. An inconspicuous wing with work/laundry rooms includes a two-car garage, while another space on the northeast elevation, formerly outdoors, now houses a long, cozy office and library. The current owner has meticulously maintained and steadily enhanced the property; Pauli would be proud of such stewardship.