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Real Estate & Architecture in Los Angeles

Interview With Lipetz House Owner Bill Macomber

One of the best parts about living in Silver Lake is that you’re surrounded by amazing examples of architecture while you’re just out walking the dog. One of my favorite homes is just a few streets up from us–the incredible Lipetz House. It was Raphael Soriano’s first residential commission in 1936. The home features a streamline moderne style with a large 15′ by 32′ semicircle all-glass room that was designed to be a music room for the original owner’s Grand piano. The home was photographed by Julius Shulman, which he talked about in his autobiography:

At the location I met Soriano, sitting on the newly carpeted living room floor eating lunch. I shared a sandwich with him, and described my meeting with Neutra, which surprised him. Neutra, he stated, was a tyrant with photographers. That utterance was followed by him asking, “Would you photograph this house when it is completed?” Not only did I photograph the house several months later, but subsequently its publication in this country and abroad served to showcase Soriano’s design and my talents.

The Lipetz House sold in 2007 (after being owned for 70 years by a previously owner) to its new owners Bill and Annie Macomber who quickly got to work renovating the home.

After tweeting about my love for Lipetz House, Bill tweeted me back and wound up inviting me over to take a look at his place and agreeing to do an interview about his home and the renovation process.

Take Sunset: What originally drew you to this home?

Bill Macomber: We were in the market for something that we connected with. The living room is amazing, and we immediately felt that we could rehabilitate the house to be a great place to raise a family.

TS: What condition was the home in when you acquired it?

Macomber: It was a granny house–lived in for many years without any improvements. But the roof was good and the former owners had taken good care of it. The original architecture had been compromised, mainly in the ’50s. A shower was added and a breakfast nook was added as well. The original garage was removed and a carport replaced it. The house was originally a party house–not one that was fit to raise two boys. So the incremental changed made sense seen through that lens. But to us, we wanted to start over and go back to Soriano’s original design as much as possible. Interestingly, the original 1936 construction faired very well, while the construction in the ’50’s needed to be completely replaced. It really speaks to the shift in building philosophy that occurred during the war.

Check out the rest of our interview and more pictures of the Lipetz House, after the break!

TS: What were the biggest challenges you faced while renovating the home?

Macomber: Figuring out what the original design and intentions were. Luckily, Soriano’s original drawings and construction contract materials were found in his archive at Cal Poly Pomona. Also, there are a great number of pictures of the original house in the archive and in publications. Beyond that, permitting was a headache. Because we wanted to restore the original counter-axis formed by the garage, we needed to get a complicated permit from the city. Eventually, the great architecture firm Fung and Blatt was able to guide our rehabilitation plans through the city.

TS: Can you talk a bit about what the renovation process was like?

Macomber: The renovation was very easy in some parts, and quite tricky in others. The “surprises” from the ’30s were all good–thick subfloor, well poured foundations, and good walls. The ’50s were another matter, as all of the work done then was termite infested or bad for other reasons. We had a good contractor, Granger Faulk from G-Form, but things fell well behind schedule. The truth I discovered about construction is that it’s fun until the last three weeks, and then it is absolutely excruciating. With my wife pregnant and due any day, we were eager for the work to be done! But the process gave me a great insight into how Soriano had designed the house. If you don’t have the experience of going over every detail of the plans, you don’t get a full view of the subtle genius that all great architects possess. It was an honor to slowly understand his gift for sighting the house, for his calls for various materials, and his reliance on gifted tradesmen.

TS: How did you make the furniture and interior design choices for the home?

Macomber: We are not doctrinaire about our furniture choices. While keeping the home generally mid-century modern, we knew that by adding in calls to other eras we would increase the interest and fun of the house. We have also had the great luck to work with interior designer Amy Sklar, who helped us find low furniture to reveal the beautiful African mahogany in the living room shelving. We also love working with Scott at Ten10, a local furniture builder who made our living room couch and dining room table.

TS: Your house was declared an LA Historic-Cultural Monument. What was that process like?

Macomber: The city was great. We received a warm welcome by the council that oversees designations, and working with Lambert Giessinger in the planning office was very easy. The city also works at a very slow pace, which is something that I got used to over the three years it took to landmark the property and then have it covered by the Mills Act.  We were also very, very fortunate to work with Vanessa Withers at Historic Preservation Partners, who I highly recommend to anybody looking to work with the city on Mills act or cultural landmarking!

TS: And finally, what do you love most about the home?

Macomber: The views, and the way it is so perfect to raise our daughter in. It’s always a project, and now that the rehab is done we can just do the tinkering that we want to.

Thank you so much for letting Take Sunset into your home, Bill. It was fascinating to take a peek into one of our favorite houses in the neighborhood! You can follow Bill Macomber on Twitter.

(Photos courtesy of Kate Collins)