“No matter what else is happening, this is California,” Eloise Klein Healy quietly asserts in the quintessentially Los Angeles poem “The Beach at Sunset.” The line, sandwiched between more difficult subjects, is striking; a beacon amid darkness. It is rigorous and modern, reassuring in its timelessness.
There is something equally poetic about the Dutton House, the circa-1963 home of Shannon Harvey and Adam Michaels. A couple years ago, Harvey and Michaels, principals of design and publishing company Inventory Form & Content, became what Michaels says was “fairly obsessive” about buying a classic West Coast midcentury modern home.
“I feel like I had every listing within the eastern part of Los Angeles memorized for half a year,” he says, laughing. The compulsion paid off in the end, considering the extremely competitive real estate market and the demand for the housing style. “It helped to just have a good sense of what was out there. Because when we did see this house, it was pretty clear that it was an exceptional one.”
Located in the winding hills of Chevy Chase Canyon, the Dutton House was originally designed by architect Richard Fleming on spec for a local developer. It was purchased by the original owners, Thomas and Geraldine Dutton, in 1966. (She was the daughter of Los Angeles real estate star Frank Strong; he was an elevator operator turned director of the golf club down the hill.)
A superb example of post-and-beam architecture from the era, the reserved front facade is clad in horizontal wood siding, and two long decks—one from the main floor and another from the downstairs bedrooms—emerge off the rear and wrap around one side of the home. Its signature feature, however, is a narrow clerestory window that sits at the roof’s slightly pitched apex. The gesture reminded the couple of other vernacular or civic storage structures, like a water tower or barn.
“I think the idea of having a singular move like that, that crosses the whole top floor of the house, was something that we really liked,” Harvey says. “It was not fussy, but it had a clearly unique design element.”
Michaels agrees, adding that he appreciates “that the really visible design is also just really pragmatic, and has to do with the siting of the house where it is on a hill.”
The previous owner had taken possession of the home when it was in a state of disrepair, and made significant investment in bringing it back from the brink. The wood decks and railings were replaced, as well as several structural posts and beams and portions of the roof decking. The kitchen was updated. A new front door and sidelights were put in and a new gravel roof was put on at the same time. As a result of this work, the home was placed on the Glendale Register of Historic Resources, a designation marked with a plaque on the home’s brick retaining wall.
“Since the previous owners went through this whole process, there was an unusual amount of documentation available to us about the house,” Michaels says. “There was a rare amount of good information about the history of the house that we were able to learn [from].”
The home’s interior is flooded with natural light, aided by that clerestory window, and its furnishings are a collection of styles punctuated by dabs of color. Harvey explains that the quality of light that the window provides, as the sun makes its daily journey, is more diffuse as it dips behind the mountains to the west. “There is an effect on the white walls upstairs. The light is amplified and washes across the surface and just makes this glowing effect,” she says. “We were so struck by that the first morning that we saw the house… [it’s] something that I don’t think I would ever want to change.”
Wall color does play a part in some of the downstairs spaces and in the home’s bathrooms, which are painted in hues like yellow, pink, and green. “Adding color made those spaces feel a little more permanent, a little more lived in, and have their own character,” Harvey adds.
Many of the couple’s furnishings, collected with an eye toward eclecticism, traveled with them from the East Coast when they headed to LA several years ago. The new home, much larger than their previous dwellings, had room for more, and they added pieces like an Ahrend de Cirkel Oase lounge chair by Wim Rietveld, a Herman Miller wireframe sofa, and a set of vintage Dutch school chairs they use for dining. Those played well with objects like the multicolored Fran Hosken side tables that Michaels picked up in Minneapolis some years ago. Plants thrive in the space. And recently, the couple has begun a rug collection.
“There’s a nice pragmatic element that a rug brings to a room,” Harvey says, noting their functionality as well as aesthetic appeal. “We have a lot of rugs and I bring them out every once in a while to try out. I love the ability of changing space in that way.”
Locally, they source vintage items from places like Amsterdam Modern (“it’s kind of like going to a museum, but you can sometimes buy something and take it with you,” says Michaels) and the Pasadena City College Flea Market (“different objects ... 95 percent of which don’t catch your eye, but 5 percent is always super fascinating”).
“It’s nice to be surprised by some detail one way or another, or the way something is put together that isn’t expected,” says Michaels.
One meaningful benefit of the home’s larger footprint is that the couple has been able to host fellow designers and friends for collaborations. They designed and made a few custom furniture pieces with their friend Levi Murphy, setting up a simple wood shop to fabricate benches for their book nook and the entryway, as well as doorknobs for some closets and doors. “There were a number of pulls that we just didn’t think were quite right,” Harvey explains. “[We] had this idea to cut down massive dowels and paint them significant colors from the history of architecture.”
Books, naturally, are prominently on display in the home. As an integral part of Harvey and Michael’s world, their design practice informs what they surround themselves with, and the home where they now find themselves. “You develop a sensibility over the years and that sensibility plays out in the work that we do,” Michaels observes. “It’s interesting to then have this opportunity to think about the way that can translate into an actual living space, or collections of physical objects.”
In books, he adds, they are bound to a collection of images on the page, or working out relationships between text and image. But at home, there are fewer rules. “It gets to be a lot more playful when you’re thinking about things that will bring either greater utility or greater pleasure, in composite making a place that feels good to be in.”