I’ll preface this with a disclaimer – I’m about to hold forth on Los Angeles modernism, and I have not been to LA. One day I plan to, with the sole intention of soaking up some great mid-century modernist architecture and design. And when the day comes, I’ll be on edge. And here’s why.

There’s a line from Richard Greenberg’s play ‘Three Days of Rain’, about the legacy and the genesis of an iconic American modernist house, which refers to the reluctance of people to come and visit an actual building lest the reality of the place spoil their memory of the photo shoot in Life magazine. Usually the thing I enjoy most about what I call ‘walking into the textbook’, or, finally visiting places I’ve pored over and admired remotely is seeing what else a place offers. The pong of old carpet in an Aalto house, the downstairs dunnies at Therme Vals, the crazy back stairs of a formal baroque pile. The trash mags call it ‘stars without makeup’. I call it completeness.

But I appreciate the sentiment in Greenberg’s play. Julius Shulman’s beautiful photographs of the Case Study (and other) houses from the fifties and sixties in LA are at once so poised and seductive, so very much better as a set than most other architectural records, that surely if the real thing were to be seen, something would go pop. I don’t really want to ruin the perfect idea of the Koenig, Lautner, Eames, and Neutra houses dotted around the canyons and beaches of Los Angeles. But as a lover of great domestic architecture they’re little must-sees. One day. In the meantime it’s Taschen and ‘Californication’ on dvd for me.

To the point…. Today we’re looking at house in Malibu, by one of the best exponents of the genre, Craig Ellwood. The great photos are by Richard Powers.


It’s my private theory that if you passed the Farnsworth House a cocktail, the whole thing would unravel and you’d end up with the beachy loucheness of an Ellwood house such as this. Same language, so much more approachable. It’s the sort of modernism you’d want to be your friend.


Cheap construction, simple materials, and something dead on the floor. Lose the sofa and I’d be banging on the door desperate to move in.  Wouldn’t you love a room like this in your house too? Of course you would!


Tactile tastefulness. Quite my favourite thing. If ever I have the luck to design my own house there’ll be some great timbery brickiness thrown in.


Exposed bricks, crisp white partitions, boarded doors and boarded walls… Just add Tom Ford, Colin Firth and Julianne Moore as the drunk neighbour and we’ve got ourselves a movie!


Open planning and enfilades you just know seductively scented sea breezes are wafting through…


And here we’ll leave it. Hope you’ve enjoyed mentally arranging your own furniture in this house just as much as I have!




[Images © Richard Powers, via Homelife.]

About The Author

Luke Moloney

Luke is an architect from Sydney who has travelled extensively throughout Australia, Western Europe and Southern Africa. He has a deep appreciation of Scandinavian architecture and design, and a love of architectural history in general. He believes that the best design is beautiful and accessible, uncomplicated, and a pleasure. Luke buys far too many books, and in his spare time wonders if he has what it takes to be ‘Detail’ magazine’s first cover model.

4 Responses

  1. Kathy Joyce

    This Craig Ellwood home is very inspiring. Have added to my Inspiration Board. Love the original details like cork floors and of course that wonderful furniture.


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