LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Richard Neutra's Glamorous Architecture


A rare opportunity has arisen to purchase Richard Neutra's Kaufmann House, his much photographed modernist masterpiece.

In the desert playground of Palm Springs, Richard Neutra's Kaufmann House is a modernist masterpiece that everyone should recognize, for it was made famous by the iconic images of legendary photographers Julius Shulman and Slim Aarons.

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Richard Neutra's Kaufmann House is an icon of mid-century modernist architecture. An elegant masterpiece with an illustrious background. The ultimate trophy home for architecture aficionados. And now a unique opportunity to own it has arisen.

On the night of May 13th 2008 at Christie's New York Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening sale, the Kaufmann House will be auctioned. With an estimated sale price of $15million to $25million, there is no precedent for who the house will go to: an architectural preservation organization, such as the US National Trust which bought Philip Johnson's Glass House; one of the new breed of speculative art/design/architecture investors; or an individual design enthusiast for private use.

What's for sure is that the auction will be watched with interest not just by those in the world of property, but also by the leading figures in art and design. As the boundaries between art and design are blurred further than ever, it has not gone unnoticed that the Kaufmann House is being sold in a prestigious art auction as opposed to a generic real estate sale.

Commissioned in 1946 by the Pittsburgh department store magnet Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr, Neutra was briefed to build a Palm Springs vacation home that would serve as a winter retreat for the Kaufmann family. Kaufmann was daring in his architectural tastes: ten years previously he had commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to create Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, and the Palm Springs home was to be similarly connected to nature.

Neutra had briefly worked with Frank Lloyd Wright before moving to California to start his own practice, and the house he designed in the desert playground of Palm Springs was a magnificent interpretation of their shared philosophy for bringing the outdoors in.

The stunning structure is essentially made up of several horizontal planes of cantilevered roofs under which vast blocks of glass floor-to-ceiling walls slide open to the elements. With a combined living and dining space at the heart of the house, the five bedrooms and five bathrooms all open to the garden, and there are several outside rooms.

With the dramatic backdrop of the mountainous landscape, and the immediate environment of placed boulders, manicured lawns and a large swimming pool, the natural setting is as much a part of this building as the cleverly arranged shards of glass. It is no wonder this house photographs so well.

Indeed, it is imagery that in many ways made this house the important seminal work that it is considered. Legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman took the iconic images that are displayed on these pages and during the 1950s brought modernism out of its California bubble and into the international arena. A good friend of Neutra's, Shulman is renowned for his photographs of modernist structures by architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Pierre Koenig and Charles Eames.

The timeless appeal of these images is more than a superficial attraction. When Brent and Beth Edwards Harris, the current owners of the Kaufmann House, were restoring the building back to Neutra's original conception (previous owners, including Barry Manilow, had made their own alterations) they turned to Shulman and his essay-like archive of detailed photography. The result was a restoration with integrity that was universally praised by architectural critics.

Just as iconic are the glamorous photographs of society photographer Slim Aarons, who photographed at the Kaufmann House in 1970. His series of photos known as 'Pool Party' show cocktail hour in the garden – ladies with big hair, big jewels and the latest fashions, sat around the pool with the stunning house in the background. Like the work of Julius Shulman, these photographs have appeared in books and magazines ever since.

In light of these photographs that detail the glamour and pleasure of living in such an exquisite building, it seems a shame that the house might be sold to an institution. Though we are in a midst of a revival of mid-century modernism and the houses of Lautner, Schindler and Neutra are now the ultimate status symbols for California sophisticates. Tom Ford, Vidal Sassoon, and Mitch Glazer and Kelly Lynch all own Richard Neutra-designed homes. And, on May 13th, so could you.

Christies New York Spring 2008 Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening
May 13 2008

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