A. Quincy Jones’ distinguished paean to modern arts and architecture is ready for the modern of today.
To step into the Brody House is as if you walked right into the 1950s pages of Holiday Magazine—where high society and leisure delicately overlap. A. Quincy Jones’ architectural vision of indoor-outdoor living is artful, not decorated. The winged residence is shaped like a boomerang with magnificent floating stairs and black-and-white terrazzo. Each part feels, says designer/restorer Stephen Stone, “like the only room in the whole house.”
In collaboration with landscape designer Garrett Eckbo and Hollywood decorator William Haines, Jones designed it in 1949. The Brody House, however, owes much of its notoriety to its owners, Frances L. and Sidney Brody.
The philanthropist and real estate developer were perhaps L.A.’s pivotal art collectors of their day. As president of the UCLA Art Council, Mrs. Brody forged ahead with a 1961 exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s work, as well as the development of the Chinese Garden at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. The couple helped make LACMA a reality in 1965 and were behind the unprecedented 1966 Henri Matisse retrospective.
Sidney Brody passed away in 1983. Upon Frances Brody’s death in 2009, the auction houses themselves polished their paddles. In the end, the Brody Collection sold by Christie’s totaled $224.17 million, with Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, 1932, going for a record-setting $106.5 million. The Brodys bequeathed to LACMA the monumental ceramic La Gerbe, hanging in what she called “the heart of the home.” Senior Curator and Department Head, Modern Art at LACMA, Stephanie Barron said of the extraordinary unbolting and lifting of the 1,800-pound ceramic up and over the house by crane in 2010: “Watching the Matisse hovering in the air high above the trees was one of the most heart-stopping moments I have ever had as a curator.”
Meanwhile, as the Christie’s auction unfolded, the 13,500-square-foot abode went to market for $24.95 million. The investor with whom Stone has collaborated for more than two decades purchased the property with the intent of renovation and sale.
Stone began with the landscaping. He wanted healthy hedges by the time the construction side was completed. “I get the yards going so they’ll be mature, not anemic,” says Stone.
That first night, Stone discovered a few surprises. “I opened up one closet and saw this rolled up set, and I grabbed it,” says Stone. “It was the original full set of plans.”
The house had remained virtually undisturbed for decades, and while this would thrill the conservationist, immediate issues loomed, such as a giant tree in the atrium whose roots had upended the terrazzo. The estate was built for the affluent—but in an era when kitchens were low-ceilinged and in servant’s quarters. “I tweaked a few things—updated it without making it really obvious,” explains Stone. He transformed the LP room into a wine cellar, updated a kitchenette in the children’s wing. He added a family room, remodeled and expanded the kitchen. He installed Arcadia black-steel windows and added heat and central air. And if you can imagine, with all that art, there was no exterior gate, so up went an imposing black gate with a reproduction of the Haines ram pulls on the front double doors. “We brought back the original dining room table and restored it,” says Stone. “A family member in New York approached me and asked if we were interested. They had wanted it to stay with the house.” Indeed, there’s a healthy dose of Haines designs—such as the tufted chaise recovered in brown silk—and Stone was behind the restoration of the pieces. Yet, a mix of stylish pieces from contemporary makers like Minotti and Holly Hunt keeps the scene fresh. “I wasn’t trying to make the house a museum to Billy Haines,” Stone explains.
As for the space where that showstopping ceramic once presided, says Stone, “I kind of figured, once you’ve had a Matisse on a wall…”
The new owners can finish that thought. The estate was recently purchased off market for a tidy sum.
An extra dimension of magic, adds Stone, was a firsthand glimpse of the Brody legacy. “Some of the former staff had worked for [the Brodys] for 20-25 years. Mrs. Brody’s daughter-in-law brought them in to see the house when it was finished. They loved her so much.” The former staff approved (but missed all the art). “They were all blown away—with tears in their eyes—that we hadn’t ruined it.”
By Alison Clare Steingold.
Photographed by Jim Bartsch.