A Look at Hollywood's Love Affair with John Lautner

You have to admit it, Hollywood really seems to have a thing for John Lautner; his designs are continuously cropping up in tv-shows, films, cartoons, music videos and even video games. The occasional despondent college professor aside, his exuberant mansions are usually typecast as the bachelor-pads of various flamboyant psycho-paths, pornographers or drug-smugglers. Curbed Los Angeles have compiled this excellent video of the various Lautner-featuring scenes, so we thought that we'd take a closer look at some of his buildings, which tend to pop up in all manner of unexpected places.

Read more about Hollywood's love affair with Lautner after the break...

Jacobsen House - Twilight (1998)

Jacobsen House - via Curbed L.A.

The Jacobson house, built in 1947, was one of Lautner's earlier and more modest designs. Overlooking the San Fernando Valley in L.A., the entire house is capped by a large roof, hexagonal in plan, which was prefabricated and is held up by three, slightly sinister looking truss-columns. These sit outside the plan of the house, creating a completely open interior, free from load-bearing walls. Having just parted company with his mentor Frank Lloyd Wright at this stage, his influence is clear in Lautner's geometric roof and the detailed craftsmanship in the window and door returns. Starring in Twilight, a 1998 neo-noir cop movie with not one anemic teenage vampire in sight, the film culminates in a shootout between Paul Newman and James Garner in the house.

Schaffer Residence - A Single Man (2009)

Scaffer Residence - Crosby Doe Associates Via Curbed

Built in 1949, the Schaffer Residence is a small two-bed house on a quarter-acre wooded site at the base of the Verdugo Mts. Not as flashy as his later work, its large glass windows facing trees and timber panelling show the formation of Lautners warm brand of organic modernism. In A Single Man, the directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford, the house plays the L.A home of suicidal English professor George, played by Colin Firth. Set in the 1960's, it juxtaposes the aftermath of the death of his partner with flashbacks of happier times, playing off the cold glass expanses and warm materials in the house when appropriate. Ford chose the house for the film because its combines both the modernism and forward-thinking which attracted George to America, with natural materials and intimacy reflecting his traditional English upbringing. 

Chemosphere - Body Double (1984) + The Simpsons

Chemosphere ©Flickr- evdropkick, Simpsons image via forkparty.com. Used under Creative Commons

You may remember this house from such flicks as Body Double and The Simpsons. The UFO-esque Chemosphere is possibly one of most attention grabbing designs. Constructed in 1960, when a young aerospace engineer hired Lautner come up with a way to build on a plot which he had inherited in Hollywood hills. As lovely and valuable as the site was, it was rendered almost unbuildable by a 45º incline. Lautner's solution was to balance the house on top of a 5-foot-thick and 29-foot-tall concrete post. Structural considerations lead to an octagonal plan, which focused all the weight on a single point. The whole rig sits upon a bured concrete pedestal almost 20ft in diameter, which has, so far, made the house impervious to earthquakes and heavy rain. The house was a character in its own right in the sinister 1984 thriller Body Double. Jake Scully, an actor struggling with claustrophobia, is asked to house-sit for a mysterious millionaire, where he soon discovers a telescope set up to allow him to spy on his attractive neighbor. The Chemosphere also provided the inspiration Troy McClure's, suspiciously aquarium-filled, bachelor pad in The Simpsons.

Elrod House - Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Elrod House - Courtesy of Kilroy Southridge Properties

Built for interior designer Arthur Elrod in 1968, the Elrod house was where gangly bikini-clad would-be assassins, Bambi and Thumper, kicked the living daylights out of Sean Connery's 007. The house was built in the desert environs of Palm Springs, where the grading of the site revealed huge rocks embedded in the ground. The temptation was too much for Lautner, who designed his houses to be at one with nature. He instructed the contractor to dig 10-feet deeper, revealing massive boulders which he then incorporated into the living room. While scouting for locations for the flick, production designer Ken Adams immediately fell in love with the house: "I was shown [the Elrod house] and it was absolutely right for the film... I said 'this as though I designed it. I don't have to do anything.'"

Silvertop - Less Than Zero (1987)

John Lautner’s Silvertop in Silver Lake via Take Sunset

Lautner was known for integrating cutting edge tech into his designs and Silvertop was probably the pinnacle of this. Designed in collaboration with the client Kenneth Reiner, a man who made his millions making aircraft nuts and hair clips, Silvertop got its name from its graceful concrete dome and swooping lines, which follow the contour of the hill. The two men worked together on the house for over a decade, Reiner often requesting unusual futuristic features such as automatic, faucet-less sinks and a hydraulic table which would raise or lower depending on whether it was meal time, or time for cocktails. If any of the desired features didn't exist, Reiner would invent and build them himself in a special workshop at his factory. It was the extravagance that undid Reiner in the end, the budged ballooned from $75,000 to $1 million, he went bankrupt and had to sell the house. Silvertop was eventually completed by Lautner for its new owners in 1974. In the film Less Than Zero, its glass and concrete provides a cold reception for Clay Easton, when he returns from college to his dysfunctional wealthy family.

The Sheats Goldstein Residence - The Big Lebowski (1998), Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003)

The Sheats-Goldstein Residence - ©Jeff Green

Initially designed for the young family of an artist and a doctor in 1961, the Sheats-Goldstein has become better known as the home of machiavellian pornographer Jackie Treehorn in the Big Lebowski. The angular abode also featured in Charlies Angels Full Throttle and Snoop Dogg's video for Get Blown. Set into a sandstone ledge, a concrete coffered ceiling straddles the living space creating a cavernous atmosphere looking out across L.A. Openness is central to the design, glass panels and skylights disappear at the touch of a button fostering a close connection to the exotic greenery covering the site. The majority of the current additions to the house are thanks to bachelor, fashionista and NBA super-fan James Goldstein, who bought the house in disrepair in 1971 and hired Lautner to continue his work on it.

Garcia House - Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

Garcia House - ©Flickr - jrmyst. Used under Creative Commons

This eye-shaped house on stilts was built in 1962 for jazz-arranger Russ Garcia. Also known as the Rainbow house for the colorful stained glass panels in its vast facade, it's divided in the middle by an open staircase, separating the public area designed for entertaining and slurping martini's and the private element where the bedrooms are located, all contained beneath a vast curved roof. The house became the headquarters for a gang of suave international drug smugglers in Lethal Weapon 2, a snazzy choice of location that they probably regretted when Mel Gibson unceremoniously brought the whole operation to an end by tearing away one of the two V-shaped steel supports in his pickup truck.

Jack Rabbit Slim's - Pulp Fiction (1994)

Jack Rabbit Slim's - ©Miramax via iamnotastalker.com

Jack Rabbit Slim's was the 1950's themed nightclub where John Travolta and Una Thurman held their impromptu dance-off. Although the interior of the club was built on a soundstage in Culver City, the design team based the look on John Lautner's Googie style. Googie, a popular style in the 50's, came to prominence after Lautner designed a flamboyant, futuristic coffee shop called Googie's in 1949. The eye-catching facades became a hit with roadside businesses, like diners and cafés, who wanted to be as noticeable as possible to draw in people driving by. The Hawthorne Grill used in the opening and closing scenes of Pulp Fiction is an actual example of Googie architecture.

The Stark Residence - Iron Man (2008 - 2013)

When production designer Michael Riva couldn't find an existing house befitting genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist Tony Stark, he of course looked to Lautner, asking conceptual artist Phil Saunders to design something for the film along the lines of his Malibu designs. Saunders and the design team came up with a completely fictional house that references the organic form, structural gymnastics and open interiors of projects like the Beyer House and Arango Residence, even reflecting Lautner's love of integrated technology with omnipresent supercomputer JARVIS.

About this author
Cite: Nicky Rackard. "A Look at Hollywood's Love Affair with John Lautner" 20 Apr 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/362932/a-look-at-hollywood-s-love-affair-with-john-lautner> ISSN 0719-8884

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