Being in the Brody House in Holmby Hills, you understand all the cliches you hear about good architecture: it can't be captured in photographs or described in words, it just fucking feels good. It feels good to sit in and to walk through, and to watch other people sit in and walk through. You don't want to leave. You suddenly have a very good idea about the price of your soul. All-purpose rich people (philanthropists) Sidney and Frances Lasker Brody commissioned their house in 1949 from a trio of masters who it turned out were all working at the top of their games: architect A. Quincy Jones, interior designer Billy Haines, landscape architect Garrett Eckbo. (The Brodys also famously and fussily commissioned an enormous Henri Matisse mural for the atrium; it belongs to LACMA now and you can see it at the top of the stairs in the Ahmanson Building.) The results--sprawling but not cavernous, quirky but not flashy or gauche--sit on well over two acres next door to the Playboy Mansion on coveted Mapleton Drive. Altogether, this might be the absolute best property in Los Angeles. And of course most non-gajillionaires will probably never get the chance to see any of it in person, but our magical press powers got us into the LA Conservancy's annual benefit there this past weekend, and we've returned bearing photographs (of the outside, we weren't allowed to shoot interiors, although there's a tease of a Vine below with a little more).
Frances died in 2009 and her house sold at the end of 2010 for $14.888 million. The buyer was a mysterious investor--we still don't know who it is, and almost no one we've talked to seems to know either--but he or she (she, we think?) hired designer Stephen Stone to rework the entire property and ready it for a flip (see the before photos here). Stone tells us "we restored as much as we could," but really had to take the whole thing apart before they could put it back together. (Frances had an enormous staff, apparently, but things were left more or less as they had been for decades when the house sold.) The first thing he did was plant a bunch of hedges to block the view into the Playboy bunnies' house.
Now, nearly two years later, work is just about done, and the layout has stayed almost entirely intact--a groundfloor staff area (with original tiny kitchen) has been reworked to 2013 standards with an enormous (HUGE) kitchen, family room, and breakfast area, and one top-floor bedroom has been converted into a (second) master bathroom and dressing room (the master, which also includes a study, now spans the entire top floor). The bathroom finishes and fixtures are all-new and Stone also subbed in walnut for the original cork floors in many places.
Stone negotiated with the Brodys' heirs to buy many of the original Haines pieces designed for the house, and they'll be included in any sale. He kept the Eckbo landscaping that was healthy enough to keep (most of the trees, not much of the shrubbery), put in a new pool in the footprint of the original, and added a koi pond alongside a groundfloor office and a new fence around the tennis court. Sadly, the enormous ficus in the atrium had gotten a little too invasive and had to be replaced with some rare palms (brought in by crane!).
All that's left is one more retaining wall to level out the backyard a bit and a little work on the pool house, and then the house will be ready to hit the market around the new year. But then it might not even get there--Stone says there's already been a ton of interest and he guesses the sale "will be the highest price per square foot the city's ever seen."
[Vine via Brooke Wall]
· Brody House Archives [Curbed LA]