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Monday, September 19, 2011

Pierre Koenig's Case Study House #21 comes full circle

In 1945, architect and editor of Arts & Architecture magazine John Entenza announced the Case Study House Program, which encouraged architects to create low-cost modern housing prototypes that could be duplicated to meet the impending housing shortage after World War II. Along with architects like Richard Neutra, Craig Ellwood, Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen and Raphael Soriano, Pierre Koenig was chosen to take part in the program.

In early 1957, Dr. Walter Bailey and his wife Mary commissioned Koenig to design the 1300 square foot Case Study House 21, now popularly known as the Bailey House, in the Hollywood Hills canyon. The house was completed in 1959.

The next year, Julius Shulman was invited to photograph the home, and along with photographs of another of Koenig's designs (Case Study House #22, the Stahl House), these images became icons of California Modernism.

The Baileys relocated to the East Coast in 1969 and sold the house. Over the next thirty years, the structure suffered many alterations which destroyed much of Koenig's design. However, in 1997, film producer Dan Cracchiolo (of Matrix, Lethal Weapon and Conspiracy Theory fame) saw Shulman's photographs and bought the Bailey House. He commissioned Pierre Koenig to oversee restoration of the home to its original beauty. Of the previous alterations, Koenig said, “Even though I knew what had been going on in this house, it was a great shock to see it. My houses are like children to me.”

In addition to restoring architectural elements, Cracchiolo even commissioned replicas of some of the original furnishings from the original manufacturers, including Gerald McCabe's long Formica cabinet and the black Naugahyde sofa in the entryway, which were made famous in Shulman's photos. In 2006, Shulman, at age 95, was again invited to photograph the Bailey House.

Cracchiolo’s restoration was featured in the July 1999 issue of Architectural Digest, and in 2001, Koenig was honored with the Preservation 2000 award from the City of Los Angeles for the Bailey House restoration.

In 2000, the house was purchased by film producer and famous-house collector Michael LaFetra. Reportedly, Koenig called LaFetra and said, " “Hello, this is Pierre, your architect, and I want to talk.” LaFetra was told by Koenig that “he ought not to have to change anything in the house but, if he needed to, he should get in touch with him.” A friendship developed between the two, and Koenig designed a Malibu beach house for LaFetra, his last project.

LaFetra made sure he got the Bailey House listed as a Historic-Cultural Monument before selling it in 2002. Pierre Koenig passed away from leukemia in April 2004 at the age of 78 knowing that his work was appreciated by a new generation of architecture lovers.


Shulman photo of entryway, 1960
Shulman photo of entryway, 2006

Famous Shulman entryway photo

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt recreate
 the famous Shulman entryway photo

Kitchen, 1960

Kitchen, 2006
Looking out kitchen into carport, 1960

Looking out kitchen into carport, 2006

Living area with deck area in rear, 1960

Living area, looking in from deck, 2006

Exterior, 1960

Exterior, 2006


  1. Amazing. It's so stunning. I could never live in such a sparse and white space but how fun to admire it.

  2. stunning ..i wish i could buy a house like that

  3. Amazing house! The reproduced formica cabinet appears to be slightly different, what do you think?

  4. @John Bachman: I read that Cracchiolo struggled with whether to commission exact replicas or express some individuality. In the end, I think he decided to stay true in size and shape but make some minor changes to suit his own taste. It looks as if the cabinet has black Formica only on top, instead of the white on top and front like the original. Also, the original sofa had a tight back, while the new one appears to have loose cushions. I'm not quite sure what's going on with the kitchen of the old photos shows Eames bikini chairs, another white Saarinen chairs, while the newer photos show an Eames La Fonda set.

  5. @DearHelenHartman, Rhan and Sudha: Yes, so beautiful and so simple. I sometimes think I could keep my house cleaner if I could part with some "stuff" and go that minimalist, but somehow, things just keep following me home. :)

  6. Read the original house didn't have air conditioning so the pools of water provided cooling. In addition to exterior screens that slide and block the sun-an early green house.

  7. @John: That's fascinating. Koenig must have been quite an innovator. I also read that he was among the first to do residential steel-framed construction.

  8. The Case Study #22 house has the great view, could you do a post on that?
    Another pioneer in steel frame houses is Craig Ellwood his work is very similar to Koenig.
    Just a thought.

  9. @John: I did a post on the Case Study House Program on January 2 of this year and included the Stahl house, but it's such a popular topic that perhaps soon I'll devote a whole post to it. Craig Ellwood is definitely on my "to do" list.