Oliver Wainwright plays Spectre
It’s hard to feel much more like a Bond villain than when you’re lying on the grey leather mattress of the triangular concrete daybed in the Sheats-Goldstein house, beneath a sharply faceted concrete ceiling, looking out through the floor-to-ceiling windows at the skyline of Los Angeles. At the touch of a button the glass walls slide away, leaving nothing between you and the sheer drop down to a jungle canopy below. Flick a different switch and a wooden deck glides back to reveal a bubbling hot tub; another tap and a cinema display folds down from the ceiling. All that’s missing is a laser death-ray and a pool of man-eating piranhas.
Few people could play the part of the client of this ultimate bachelor pad better than James F. Goldstein, the self-styled Beverley Hills playboy who has spent the last 40 years remodelling and extending the lavish hillside home that John Lautner built in 1963.
‘We said we’d keep going until it was perfect,’ growls the septuagenarian Goldstein from beneath a sequin-encrusted cowboy hat. ‘No matter what it cost or how long it took.’
Originally designed for an artist-academic couple and their five children – who stayed for only two years, perhaps because of all the sheer drops and sharp concrete angles – the house was snapped up by property investor Goldstein in 1972, after a spell in the hands of less tasteful owners. ‘It was all orange shag-pile carpet, green painted walls and formica worktops,’ he recalls. ‘So I called up Lautner and said I wanted to fulfil his vision.’
After replacing the mullioned windows with frameless glazing and remodelling the study as a breathtaking master bedroom, Goldstein caught the building bug and continued to expand and embellish, installing streamlined concrete furniture to Lautner’s designs and embarking on a gargantuan entertainment complex next door. It contains a private night-club (where Beyoncé and Rhianna recently held their birthday parties), topped with an infinity tennis court, which will soon be joined by a glass-walled cinema and another swimming pool, lined with lapis lazuli. ‘The builders haven’t left since 1979,’ grins Goldstein, ‘much to the disappointment of my neighbours.’ And the chagrin of architecture purists too: his souped-up brand of turbo-Lautner is vulgar in the extreme.
It was all orange shag-pile carpet, green painted walls and formica worktops. So I called up Lautner and said I wanted to fulfil his vision
Locals include the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Sandra Bullock, although they’re not very close: Goldstein bought up most of the surrounding four acres, which he has filled with an exotic jungle of ferns and palms. A cantilevered concrete staircase weaves through the lush planting to an enigmatic bunker, where a bank-vault door swishes open to reveal a private ‘skyspace’ installation by James Turrell.
Long a favourite location for films and commercials – it played the home of a loanshark pornographer in The Big Lebowski and appeared in Charlie’s Angels – the property was recently back in the news when Goldstein announced he would leave it to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) when he dies. It is a coup for the museum’s director, Michael Govan, who has been looking to add a landmark of LA’s 20th century domestic architecture to the collection for the last decade.
It is welcome news given that few of LA’s famous homes can actually be seen in the flesh. The Eames House is run as a private attraction, charging $10 to look through the window, or $275 to step inside, while Pierre Koenig’s Stahl House – made famous by Julius Shulman’s photograph of its cantilevered living room floating above a twinkling night-time panorama of LA – can be visited by appointment for $60. But most other iconic houses of the period remain in private hands, safely removed from the sprawl of LA – a place Lautner himself despised. When asked, at his 80th birthday celebration, what he would do to improve the city, he said he would simply construct a gigantic concrete boulder, take it up to Mulholland Drive and roll it down the hill.
Oliver Wainwright is architecture critic at the Guardian.
On a tour of the Sheats Goldstein house, the building’s manager recounted some of the stranger scenes she has seen here over the years – perhaps none more surreal than when she walked into the kitchen to find Ashton Kutcher in his boxer shorts, milking a goat on the countertop into a bowl of cereal.