John Lautner’s Silver Lake residence on the market for $1.6M

Completed in 1940, it was the first of three houses the architect designed on the same street

By Pauline O’Connor  Apr 13, 2020

The young architect built the organic modern for a modest $4,500.
 Photos by Cameron Carothers, courtesy of Ilana Gafni/Crosby Doe Associates

Up for sale for the first time in four decades is the only home modernist icon John Lautner ever designed for himself.

Located at 2007 Micheltorena Street, just down the road from the architect’s exuberant masterpiece Silvertop, the hill-hugging residence was built in 1940, and hailed that same year by eminent architecture critic Henry-Russell Hitchcock as the “best house by an architect under 30 in the United States.” The architect lived in the house until about 1947, when he split up with his first wife, MaryBud, who got the home in their divorce.

An early illustration of Lautner’s facility with challenging lots, the redwood-clad residence cascades down the hillside in a series of hexagonal spaces. Measuring a compact 1,244 square feet, it features two bedrooms, two bathrooms, built-in furniture and bookcases, hardwood and concrete floors, a brick fireplace, and wrap-around windows to maintain the all-important connection to nature.

On the National Register of Historic Places, the Lautner residence has seen minimal alterations to its original design and would seem a likely candidate for Mills Act designation. Last sold in 1984 for $175,000, the pedigreed property has just hit the market with an asking price of $1.59 million. Ilana Gafni of Crosby Doe Associates has the listing.

The redwood, glass, and concrete home exhibits a strong Frank Lloyd Wright influence.
The sloping ceiling over the two-level main living space was designed to provide natural ventilation.
Sliding glass doors lead from the kitchen to an enclosed patio, extending the living space.
Wraparound windows and skylights bring nature inside.
One of the home’s two original bathrooms.
Built-in furniture is found throughout.

How Hard Can It Be to Choose a Hardwood Floor? How Hard Can It Be to Choose a Hardwood Floor?

Harder than you might think, given all the options available. Here’s how to navigate the various decisions you’ll have to make.

In a farmhouse in Dutchess County, N.Y., Larson Architecture Works installed reclaimed heart-pine flooring from the Hudson Company.
In a farmhouse in Dutchess County, N.Y., Larson Architecture Works installed reclaimed heart-pine flooring from the Hudson Company.Credit…William Cole
Tim McKeough

By Tim McKeough

  • Jan. 7, 2020

If you have flooring you don’t like — whether it’s carpet, vinyl or unappealing wood — it can feel like there’s no way to escape it, no matter how many rugs you pile on top. But if you have floors you love, walking across them can be a daily pleasure.

That’s because the floor is the base upon which all other decorating decisions are built. Change your floors, and you change the character of your home. It’s as simple as that.

So it’s no surprise that new floors — specifically, hardwood floors — are at the top of many renovation wish lists. Not all wood floors, however, are equally appealing or appropriate for every space.

“We look at a building holistically, so the walls and windows, and the environment that we’re in, all feed into the decision-making about the floors,” said Paul Bertelli, the design principal of JLF Architects in Bozeman, Mont., whose firm chooses a different wood floor for almost every project.

For the kitchen of a modern house in Dallas, M Gooden Design chose eight-inch-wide white-oak flooring from Carlisle Wide Plank Floors.
For the kitchen of a modern house in Dallas, M Gooden Design chose eight-inch-wide white-oak flooring from Carlisle Wide Plank Floors.Credit…Courtesy Carlisle Wide Plank Floors

The wood flooring industry has evolved considerably in recent years, as wider planks have increased in popularity and finish and installation options have expanded. Given all the choices now available, we asked architects and flooring professionals for advice on how to pick the right one.

Browsing through flooring samples to choose a type of wood and a color for your new floor is probably the most enjoyable part of the process. At this stage, much depends on personal preference and your overall vision for your home.

One of the most popular species is white oak, a classic, durable and widely available wood. “It can also take stain very well,” said Chris Sy, the president of Carlisle Wide Plank Floors. That means it can be customized for a wide variety of aesthetics, from bleached off-white to ebony.

In a Hamptons living room, Fox-Nahem Associates installed reclaimed oak flooring in varying widths from Carlisle Wide Plank Floors.
In a Hamptons living room, Fox-Nahem Associates installed reclaimed oak flooring in varying widths from Carlisle Wide Plank Floors.Credit…Courtesy Carlisle Wide Plank Floors

Other types of wood offer different looks. “Hickory has a lot of color variation, from light tones to dark tones,” Mr. Sy said.

Those who want a rich, darker brown usually select walnut, while those who prefer blonder wood may opt for maple or birch.

As for choosing a stain, the current trend is toward subtle colors that leave the wood with a natural look. Some designers even eschew stain altogether.

“We don’t ever recommend staining floors,” said Elizabeth Roberts, an architect in Brooklyn, though she does occasionally use oak darkened by a process called fuming.

If you’re having trouble deciding which species and color is best for your home, consider the other wood elements in the room, Mr. Bertelli suggested. If you have walnut cabinetry, for instance, a walnut floor is an easy match; if you have oak doors, oak floors are a natural choice.

“Limit the palette,” he said, “to make it more tranquil and serene.”

Elizabeth Roberts, an architect based in Brooklyn, N.Y., installed natural-looking white-oak flooring from the Hudson Company in the kitchen of a TriBeCa home.
Elizabeth Roberts, an architect based in Brooklyn, N.Y., installed natural-looking white-oak flooring from the Hudson Company in the kitchen of a TriBeCa home.Credit…Kyle Knodell

The way that logs are sawed into boards has a big effect on the grain pattern that’s visible in the floor.

With flat-sawn (or plain-sawn) boards, the grain has a wavy appearance. “The defining feature is this arching ‘cathedral,’” said Jamie Hammel, using the industry name for the pattern.

Mr. Hammel, the owner of the Hudson Company, a supplier of wood flooring and paneling, noted that quarter-sawn boards offer a more linear appearance, with faint striping: “The prized feature are these medullary rays, which some people call tiger stripes.”

Rift-sawn boards offer the straightest, cleanest grain, whereas live-sawn boards may include all types of grain patterns.

A floor can use one cut exclusively, or can incorporate various types of cuts. A mix of quarter- and rift-sawn boards, for instance, is a popular option for flooring with understated grain patterns. For a warm, woodsy appearance, using only flat-sawn boards might be the best option.

Prefinished boards typically have slightly beveled edges, which create pronounced lines between the boards, as seen in the interior of a Brooklyn townhouse that Ms. Roberts designed.
Prefinished boards typically have slightly beveled edges, which create pronounced lines between the boards, as seen in the interior of a Brooklyn townhouse that Ms. Roberts designed.Credit…Dustin Aksland

In addition to the way the wood is cut, you can choose how many knots and other distinguishing marks you want to see.

“We call it character,” Mr. Hammel said, noting that options include “clear” (no knots), “light character” (a few smaller knots) and “character-grade” (the most, and largest, knots).

Reclaimed wood is another option. Many flooring companies offer wood salvaged from barns, factories and other structures, which can have even more character — with nail holes, cracks and saw-blade marks.

“You can find oak siding off a 150-year-old building that’s been weathered beautifully and use that for flooring,” Mr. Bertelli said, adding that his firm frequently does just that. “We want character in the floor, and our philosophy is that there are perfect imperfections.”

Floors that are finished on site — like this chevron-patterned one in a townhouse designed by Ms. Roberts — give the appearance of a solid plane, without gaps.
Floors that are finished on site — like this chevron-patterned one in a townhouse designed by Ms. Roberts — give the appearance of a solid plane, without gaps.Credit…Dustin Aksland

Another major decision is whether to buy prefinished flooring, sold with its final color and topcoat in place, or unfinished flooring that can be stained and finished by an installer after it’s put down.

One of the advantages of prefinished flooring is that it can be installed very quickly, usually in a single day.

When floors are finished on site, the home has to be vacated to allow for sanding, staining and finishing, including drying time.

“It’s very messy work, and it’s very important that nobody step on it for days, or weeks, at a time,” Ms. Roberts said. “It really alters the construction schedule.”

A house by Di Biase Filkoff Architects in Millbrook, N.Y., features live-sawn white oak floors with plenty of character, from the Hudson Company.
A house by Di Biase Filkoff Architects in Millbrook, N.Y., features live-sawn white oak floors with plenty of character, from the Hudson Company.Credit…Gentl and Hyers

Because prefinished flooring is made in a factory, companies can also produce it with a wide range of exotic finishes that might be difficult for an installer to recreate on-site and with great consistency.

“You know what you’re going to get,” said Jane Kim, an architect in New York. Some installers who do their own finishing, she noted, “may not have the experience to get the color you want, especially if you want shades of gray or a really pale finish.”

A key difference, however, is that prefinished boards usually have beveled edges to allow for slight irregularities, which creates more pronounced lines between the boards after installation.

Because unfinished flooring is sanded flat after it is installed, the finished floor typically looks more like a solid plane, without gaps.

A house by Roger Ferris and Partners in Bridgehampton, N.Y., has flat-sawn white oak floors from the Hudson Company.
A house by Roger Ferris and Partners in Bridgehampton, N.Y., has flat-sawn white oak floors from the Hudson Company.Credit…Gentl and Hyers

Most hardwood floors today have a finishing coat of clear polyurethane. “Polyurethane essentially sits on top of the wood,” protecting it from moisture, wear and staining, Mr. Hammel said.

Water-based polyurethanes have grown in popularity in recent years, and the finishing sheen can range from matte to glossy.

A polyurethane finish is very durable, but once damaged or worn, it can be difficult to repair, Mr. Hammel said, because it typically requires refinishing an entire board, if not the whole floor.

An alternative is an oil-based finish. “Oil penetrates into the wood and therefore tends to make it look a bit richer,” he said. And because it doesn’t leave a film on top of the wood, it allows for relatively easy spot repairs.

The downside to an oil finish is that it requires more regular maintenance. “An oil floor will dry out over time,” Mr. Hammel said. “But it can be easily refreshed, with more oil.”

For a Manhattan loft, Jane Kim, an architect in New York, chose engineered eight-inch-wide rift- and quarter-sawn white oak flooring from Carlisle Wide Plank Floors. Ms. Kim frequently uses engineered wood floors in high-rise apartments, to maximize ceiling height.
For a Manhattan loft, Jane Kim, an architect in New York, chose engineered eight-inch-wide rift- and quarter-sawn white oak flooring from Carlisle Wide Plank Floors. Ms. Kim frequently uses engineered wood floors in high-rise apartments, to maximize ceiling height.Credit…Nick Glimenakis

Solid wood is just what it sounds like: a plank of your chosen wood, cut from a log. An engineered wood floor is composed of a thinner layer of your chosen wood on top of a manufactured base of layered wood, like plywood.

Engineered wood has a number of benefits. “It’s built to be more dimensionally stable,” Mr. Hammel said. “It will expand and contract less,” reducing the chance that the boards will warp or shrink over time.

Engineered flooring is especially good in basements, in high humidity areas and over radiant heating systems, he said.

And in homes with concrete subfloors, like many high-rise apartments, engineered flooring can be glued directly to the slab, whereas solid wood usually requires a plywood subfloor so it can be nailed in place.

If your ceiling height is low, saving that extra bit of space by using engineered flooring can be important, Ms. Kim said: “Some clients are really obsessed with getting the highest ceiling possible, so if they can save an inch on the floor, they’re going to go with engineered flooring.”

For a house in Jackson, Wyo., JLF Architects used reclaimed Douglas fir siding with varying widths as floorboards.
For a house in Jackson, Wyo., JLF Architects used reclaimed Douglas fir siding with varying widths as floorboards.Credit…Audrey Hall

But it isn’t always the best option. Some people simply like the idea of solid hardwood better, and in extremely dry areas, solid wood may perform better.

“Engineered floors are made to work best in environments that stay above 30 percent relative humidity,” Mr. Sy said. “If the environment is going to be consistently below that, engineered floors may experience slight cracking in the wear layer.”

Also, depending on the thickness of that top layer, engineered floors may allow for sanding and refinishing only once or twice — or perhaps not at all — while solid wood can be refinished many times. (To avoid this limitation when buying engineered flooring, look for a product with a thick top layer.)

Narrow boards with widths of about two to three inches were once standard for hardwood flooring. Not anymore. Five- to eight-inch widths are now commonplace, and some homeowners opt to go even wider, with broad planks measuring up to a foot wide and beyond.

“We make floors up to 20 inches wide,” Mr. Sy said.

In general, the wider the boards, the higher the cost. And “the wider it gets, the less stable it gets, because the wood wants to move,” Ms. Roberts said. “When we get into really wide flooring, we almost always recommend an engineered floor, because that prevents it from cupping and warping.”

Most floors are installed with the boards in straight lines, but there are many alternative installation patterns, including herringbone and chevron, which are enjoying renewed popularity.

In the bedroom of another house, JLF Architects installed lighter-toned Pacific silver fir floors.
In the bedroom of another house, JLF Architects installed lighter-toned Pacific silver fir floors.Credit…Audrey Hall

More complicated installation patterns also tend to increase the overall cost of the floor, as they require additional labor for installation and result in more wasted wood from the multitude of cuts.

How do you decide which board width and installation pattern is best? Consider the proportions of your space, and the style you want: Bigger rooms tend to look better with wider boards, and a herringbone or chevron pattern adds a touch of tradition.

You can also mix it up. Ms. Roberts sometimes uses wider boards and complicated installation patterns in the primary living spaces, and narrower boards in a straightforward arrangement in secondary spaces, like hallways and bedrooms.

This approach has been favored for centuries as a way to save money, but it can also prevent extravagant flooring choices from overpowering smaller rooms.

Remember, Ms. Roberts said, the goal is to create something timeless — not to make “your entire home look like it’s three boards wide.”

How to Sell a House in Southern California: Make a Movie

Shooting a music video to showcase, then sell, a home in West Hollywood, Calif. Production budgets for these films can range from $3,500 to $70,000.
Shooting a music video to showcase, then sell, a home in West Hollywood, Calif. Production budgets for these films can range from $3,500 to $70,000.Credit…Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times

By Debra Kamin

  • Nov. 12, 2019

Raj Qsar is eyeing the sky nervously. It’s early afternoon in Corona Del Mar, Calif., and his six-man camera crew is on the clock only until sunset. But clouds are rolling in fast over this wealthy Southern California neighborhood, and the next scene on today’s docket — a glamorous drive down the Pacific Coast Highway followed by a beachfront double date — is now feeling tricky.

On other film sets, the producer and director might huddle and order a break, or call it a wrap until tomorrow. But Mr. Qsar isn’t a director — he’s a real estate agent. And the star of his film is not a good-looking young actor (although there are four of those on set), but rather, a $1.7 million Orange County home. This short and sudsy film, he hopes, in which two young couples drink wine, play board games and wander through sleek, neat rooms, will do the trick to attract a buyer.

“Telling stories and creating connections with people takes more than just photos,” said Mr. Qsar, who heads a luxury brokerage called the Boutique Real Estate Group. “For us now, it’s all about the power of video.”

Video marketing is not new territory for home sales — wide-angle walk-throughs of staged living rooms and sweeping drone footage of leafy neighborhoods have become common tools in real estate agents’ kits. But cinematic mini-films, complete with paid actors, lighting crews and full-fledged story boards, are something new.

Mr. Qsar began dabbling in cinematic videos in 2008, just two years after leaving his job as a pharmaceutical sales representative to jump into the Orange County housing boom. He came across a wedding videographer who was producing emotionally charged, story-driven films for brides and grooms, and, he says, a light bulb went on.

“I had an idea about telling the story the same way, but as the story of a house,” he said. “One of the things I always tell my clients when they walk through is, ‘Can you see yourself having Christmas dinner here or birthdays and bar mitzvahs here?’ I wanted to really pull out the emotional aspect.”

After putting the wedding videographer on his payroll and investing $20,000 of his own money in video equipment, he made a handful of short film promotions for homes in the $1 million to $2 million range in Orange County, including a four-bedroom Mediterranean-style estate in Villa Park.

Filming in the master bathroom. Videos marketing real estate aren’t new, but cinematic mini-films with paid actors and lighting crews, are.
Filming in the master bathroom. Videos marketing real estate aren’t new, but cinematic mini-films with paid actors and lighting crews, are.Credit…Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times

In that video, images of a young blond wife sitting at a piano and singing Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” are spliced with images of a Porsche-driving husband arriving home from work. As he showers upstairs, the wife ushers in a flock of eager friends and children with balloons and sets up a surprise party by the pool. The song reaches its crescendo, the husband descends the stairs, and there’s his family, there’s a cake, and there’s a sweet, picture-perfect backyard celebration.

When that home sold, for $1.7 million, it set a record as the most expensive home sale ever in Villa Park.

“Once real estate agents started doing high-end video productions, putting in models and actors was a no-brainer,” said Jimm Fox, president of OMM Video Marketing, a Canadian agency that tracks trends in cinematic storytelling. “You’re not just selling an address, you’re selling a lifestyle. And to do that, you need humans.”

Production budgets for these films can range from $3,500 to $70,000. Often the real estate agent is picking up the tab, but in some cases, agents discuss their plans with sellers and agree to split the bill or have the costs added to their fees.

Mr. Fox said the trend for Hollywood-style videos kicked off around 2007 and was a natural progression from the lush but empty footage of staged homes that preceded it.

“Real estate at the high end is always an aspirational sell,” he said. “You want to showcase a lifestyle. So you start shooting homes, and then you add models to make it more vibrant, and very soon you want to turn it into a story.”

The Australian production studio PlatinumHD claims to have been the first to produce these Hollywood-style real estate films. In 2011, the studio helped the trend spread internationally by producing a video for the Queensland-based property management firm Neo Property.

In it, a young woman clad only in a lacy bra and panties and bound to a chair inside a hyper-modern luxury home, makes an emergency call for help and is asked to describe where she is. As she describes the home’s chef’s kitchen and waterfront views, its in-house movie theater and its private elevator, a SWAT team descends to rescue her, led by none other than Neo Property’s real estate agents themselves.

The view from the master bedroom in West Hollywood.
The view from the master bedroom in West Hollywood.Credit…Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times

The film, of course, is as much about the appeal of the model as the home. But by using sex, helicopters and shots of a gleaming red Corvette to sell the property, Neo made it quite clear: In this sort of marketing, peddling a fantasy can help close a deal.

Ben Bacal began adding actors to his listing videos in 2014. The Los Angeles-based agent, a former film student who also dabbles in internet companies and has more than $2 billion in sales to his name, is a fixture on the high-priced home circuit in Hollywood. He offers his clients a professionally produced video for every home he agrees to represent, and he estimates that in 40 percent of those cases, he includes actors and a story line.

Some are sweet: A home in Bel Air, which he listed in March 2016 for $48.5 million, shows a brother and sister channeling their best Ferris Bueller impressions, faking sickness in their custom bedrooms before dashing out to their backyard infinity pool with skyline views after their parents head off to work. (The home sold for $39 million in December 2016.)

Others are more slapstick, like the film for a home on Rising Glen Road in Los Angeles (the house where the actress Brittany Murphy died), in which an adorable corgi named Sherlock Bones inherits the mansion listed for $18.5 million and heads there to live his best canine life. (That home sold in 2017 for $14.5 million.)

In all of Mr. Bacal’s videos, plots are thin but visuals, and humor, are laid on thick. That’s intentional, he says.

“Instead of telling a long dramatic story, I like to pull characters through the house and do something that makes it voyeuristic, where you can see the property. Focusing too much on story takes away from the home,” he said in a phone call from Mykonos, Greece, where he was on vacation. “I’m not Quentin Tarantino.”

His greatest triumph to date is a home on Hillcrest Road in Beverly Hills. Markus Persson, the Swedish video game programmer behind Minecraft, saw the short film that Mr. Bacal produced for the eight-bedroom, 15-bath home, showing two young women arriving in a Rolls-Royce and enjoying the home’s features, which include a candy room and a 24-seat theater. Beyoncé and Jay-Z were also reportedly interested in the property, which was priced at $85 million. Just seven days after seeing the film, Mr. Persson purchased it for $70 million.

Mr. Bacal credits his success to his ability to not just create compelling footage, but also to distribute it effectively.

The filmmakers discussing a scene on the home’s balcony. “You’re not just selling an address,’’ a video producer said, “you’re selling a lifestyle.”
The filmmakers discussing a scene on the home’s balcony. “You’re not just selling an address,’’ a video producer said, “you’re selling a lifestyle.”Credit…Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times

He pours cash into boosting the films on YouTube, advertising them across Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and promoting them in the right markets. In Mr. Persson’s case, Mr. Bacal had made the decision to promote the mansion not just in the United States but also in Sweden, a decision that paid off.

“It’s not just about creating a 90-second video. It’s also about knowing how to use video to effectively market that property. And that’s going to mean breaking it up into smaller components and using social media platforms to promote it,” said Mr. Fox, the Canadian marketing executive.

It makes sense that Hollywood-style promotional real estate is hitting a peak in Southern California, said Jonathan Miller, a New York City-based real estate appraiser and consultant. That’s because the high-end market from Los Angeles to San Diego is flush with inventory, creating longer marketing time, reduced foot traffic at open houses and greater competition between agents.

“In a market where there’s escalating supply but still anchored to another time, the sellers are trying to market much more creatively,” Mr. Miller said. In his mind, the sleeker and more expert-looking the video, the more likely it is that the seller is trying to justify a high price tag.

“When I see these videos, or something like a camel at an open house, that’s a clear sign of something that’s overpriced,” he said.

Mr. Qsar, the Orange County real estate agent, produces a video for every home that he represents, spending from $2,500 to the low six figures to produce them. He pays out of his own pocket. While he has had eight-figure listings, most of his sales are in the $1 million to $2 million range.

“Fifteen years ago, I never thought I’d be shooting films,” said Mr. Qsar. “I had a day job and just wanted to sell a couple houses and see what happened. But then I sold 10 and then 15 and 20, and then social media hit, and I thought, ‘O.K., how can I be different?’”

In the hypercompetitive world of Southern California real estate, he said, it’s worth it because his videos give him a definitive edge.

“Our listings are recognizable before they even hit the market, because people see them on social media,” he said. “So now, every time I get together with my team on a house, the first question we ask is, ‘What is the story going to be on this house?’”