If you have $895,000 and fancy a piece of architectural heritage, you're in luck! A landmark Frank Gehry house in Los Angeles County has hit the market for the first time. Built in 1981 for the Benson family in the highlands of the City of Calabasas, the 1,719-square-foot two-bedroom, three-bath house is split down the middle by a small moat. Laden with exterior circulation elements—plywood decks, stairs, and sculptural railings—the design presents a spatial sequence that recalls the logic of a Japanese garden. If you're in LA, check out one of the open houses (October 23 and 28) or
The roof deck was completed in 1984, three years after the Bensons moved in.
The last Gehry house to go up for sale was the Schnabel house in Brentwood, Los Angeles, listed last year for $13 million. Though Gehry has built quite a few houses for the well-to-do, the Benson house is much more modest—the construction budget was around $120,000. "It's one of the only standalone middle-class houses he's done," says Clea Benson, whose parents first approached Gehry about designing their house in 1979.
The living room.
Clea Benson's father, the late Robert Benson, met Gehry in 1978 when, as a law professor at the Loyola Law School, he served on a committee to choose an architect for the school's expansion. (Gehry got the job.) "I was delighted by him because he combines this very likable down-to-earth manner with really radical, quirky creativity," Robert Benson wrote on a website he used to maintain about the house. "I was having so much fun on these visits that I wanted more, so I got finally up the nerve to ask him if he would design a house for us."
Benson recalled that when Gehry suggested they build two structures instead of one, "We said, 'There isn't enough space,' but he said something like, 'Oh sure there is, and it'll be more interesting, like a Japanese sculpture with two stones almost touching. You'll get a lot of beautiful spaces in between and at night it'll be like camping where you're in and out under the stars.'"
An eight-foot-long outside "hallway" separates the house's two parts, contributing to Gehry's vision of two volumes almost touching.
Gehry used asphalt roofing tiles to clad the two volumes, each of which are color-coded according to the program they contain (brown shingles for living chambers and a scaly green tile for the living spaces). Despite the house's tight lot, Gehry devised an intricate processional entrance that led visitors from the driveway, up and across a rooftop patio, and down to the door of the main house, which has the best view of the hills below.
View from the roof deck.
The house has a few other bits of majesty designed into it. "My sister and I had to talk to Frank about what kind of house we wanted to live in," Clea Benson recalls. "We said, 'We want to live in a castle with secret passageways.'" So Gehry built the bridge between the carpark and the brown volume on hinges—"sort of like a drawbridge," Benson says. She and her sister each had a door into their shared bedroom, and Gehry clad the doors in the brown shingles so that they seemed to disappear. "It was sort of a Frank Gehry reimagining of what children's visions were," Benson says.
Though the Bensons had worried about having to go outside every time they passed between the bedrooms and the living area, Gehry's design intent came true. "I have made the trip in my pyjamas from bedroom to kitchen at midnight many times in the last 20 or so years," Robert Benson wrote. "[A]nd I often look up at the stars and thank him."
The master bedroom.
A lofted sitting area.
The living room.
All photos courtesy of ValleyModern.com