Set against the architectural gem that is John Lautner’s Garcia House, actress Jaime King gleams.
It takes a fiercely devoted person to reside in the Garcia House; specialized craftsmen are required for chores ranging from washing windows to swapping light bulbs. In 2002, John McIlwee and Bill Damaschke acquired the Hollywood Hills property from Vincent Gallo—a three-hour lunch with the filmmaker/provocateur confirmed they were the right people to restore this 1962 John Lautner icon (named after original owners Russ and Gina Garcia). Says McIlwee, “When I say this project is kismet, I mean it. Totally meant to be.”
While structurally sound (Lautner was an engineering genius), the modest-sized abode had been redecorated to extremes, original designs either ripped out or ruined, forcing a meticulous overhaul. The entertainment business manager (clients at Shepard McIlwee include Courteney Cox and Selma Blair) and the Chief Creative Officer for DreamWorks Animation set out to reclaim its beauty after years of painting, paneling, contact-paper over wood cabinets and—no thanks to the Disco era—mirroring. Says McIlwee, “John [Lautner] had once said something like, ‘If there are better technologies and materials, I want you to upgrade them.’” They enlisted restoration masters, architecture firm Marmol Radziner of Venice (known for their projects such as Palm Springs’ Kaufmann House), and now-S.F.-based interior designer Darren Brown (Frank Sinatra house in Palm Springs, Parker Palm Springs). In stretches over the course of the five-year renovation, McIlwee camped out in a sleeping bag with no power or running water.
McIlwee and Damaschke replaced virtually every surface, fixture and faucet with elements appropriate to the era yet still relevant to modern day (new Miele ovens with 1960s design). They also consulted two invaluable resources: architectural photographer Julius Shulman, who lives down the street, “pulled out his negatives [of the home],” and Head of the Department of Architecture and Contemporary Art at The Getty Research Institute, Wim de Wit, accessed rolls containing the Garcia House’s original blueprints—including a pool which had never been constructed.
“[Lautner] homeowners are a very important group of people,” explains de Wit. “And in the Julius Shulman photo archive—they often look at those photographs taken right after the completion of the house, since those are the best record of what the house really looked like…what was really built.” This kind of research and discovery gave them confidence to follow through with massive upgrades. The terrazzo marble took three months to match. The pool alone required four years to construct.
Now again, the gravity-defying Garcia House stands as an otherworldly feat soaring high above the lush foliage of L.A.’s Nichols Canyon. Not an ounce of the John Lautner masterpiece touches the ground 60 feet below. Instead, two V-shaped stems sprout almost organically out of the hillside to cradle the glass-paneled ellipsis. A private stair descent leads past slightly overgrown greenery to an eye-shaped pool—a wink of turquoise against cool concrete. As the day progresses, the sun creates dazzling geometry of light reflected in every movement—particularly arresting when glowing through glass inserts of bold popsicle hues.
Indoors and out, stairwells and landings of dark lava rock and confetti-like terrazzo flooring sweeps seductively throughout, while more angular surfaces, like honeyed onyx in the kitchen, demarcate specific functionality. Under the vigil of a Mattia Biagi dripped tar bust “on loan” from friend Mayer Rus, living areas remain larger than life, yet expertly scaled—and always in perspective. In the living room, for example, against a slanted glass wall and surrounded by Contemporary art and raw, sparkling cathedral geodes, a curvaceous sofa that can accommodate at least a dozen is offset by an equilateral triangle coffee table crafted by Lucite master Charles Hollis Jones.
What’s also affectionately known as the Rainbow House, for its arched silhouette, remains the couple’s proud achievement, even as they embark on another home (the Gerald Ford Estate in Palm Springs). Modernism buffs and inquisitive architecture students still motor by, and a fair share of tourists juggling film maps search for the domicile that unforgettably slid down the hill in Lethal Weapon 2. Keeping a healthy dose of realism about the attention, the couple doesn’t sequester. They throw casual buffet dinners quite often. (“The house is not prissy,” adds McIlwee. “I have great carpets. I serve red wine.”)
Additionally, both men are immensely active in philanthropic projects, whether the board of the John Lautner Foundation, Project Angel Food, or The Hammer. Benefits, tours and entertaining are simply an aspect of such residential stewardship. “You get a different sense of space when you’re in [the house], versus just seeing a picture of it or the floor plans. That’s the part of me that knows you have to participate and share it.”
With its cutting-edge Raymond Pettibon drawings, boldface name designer and stunning geometry, it may be museum-worthy, yet Damaschke and McIlwee really do live here. “At the end of the day, it’s still a private residence.”
By Alison Clare Steingold.
Photographed by Coliena Rentmeester.