Writer Susan Orlean Restores a Schindler Classic in L.A.

A literary couple embrace the quirks of a California modernist. Twice.

In the couple’s bedroom, a back corner window that had been straightened by the previous owner was restored to its original slant, and an interior clerestory was uncovered and used to brighten a bathroom on the other side of the wall. The vintage teak bed with built-in headboard and side tables is from Vintage on Point in Los Angeles. A signed Andy Warhol screen print hangs overhead.

When writer Susan Orlean was posting pictures of her new home on Facebook earlier this year, she received rapturous replies of the “Gorgeous!” and “When can I come visit?” variety. Under an image of her bedroom, showing a rough stone-and-cement fireplace, a trapezoidal window, slanted walls, and a tongue-and-groove ceiling, one friend wrote, “It looks like high modernist meets Fred Flintstone.” Another friend asked, “Is that a Schindler?”

Rudolph M. Schindler’s Kallis House, recently restored by home- owners Susan Orlean and John Gillespie, is often referred to as the Austrian-born architect’s late- period masterpiece. It makes use of the

Rudolph M. Schindler’s Kallis House, recently restored by homeowners Susan Orlean and John Gillespie, is often referred to as the Austrian-born architect’s late-period masterpiece. It makes use of the “Schindler frame,” an adaptation that allowed him to design
large glazed openings and thin ceilings and roofs.

Photo by Pippa Drummond

The house was indeed designed by Austrian-born architect Rudolph M. Schindler, and its clean lines, clerestory windows, and large glass expanses make it immediately recognizable. Yet the home—”an exploded box,” according to architecture critic Paul Goldberger—has a specific, almost wacky appeal, with curiously shaped rooms, split-stake fencing used as siding, and complex volumes with multiple nontraditional roof forms. For Susan and her husband, investor and writer John Gillespie, restoring it cemented an obsession that began years earlier.

The dining room features a tongue-and- groove Douglas fir ceiling. Original built-ins include a mahogany bench anchored between cabinets whose fronts tilt at the house’s signature 15-degree angle.

The dining room features a tongue-and-groove Douglas fir ceiling. Original built-ins include a mahogany bench anchored between cabinets whose fronts tilt at the house’s signature 15-degree angle.

Photo by Pippa Drummond

In 2007, the couple were living temporarily in Los Angeles, so that Susan—a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of 1998’s The Orchid Thief and, most recently, the best-selling The Library Book—could research her book Rin Tin Tin. In their free time, they looked at houses.

The Kallis House is known for its butterfly roof, which enabled Schindler to add clerestory windows to bring in more light. For the exterior paint, the couple ordered a custom color from Behr.

The Kallis House is known for its butterfly roof, which enabled Schindler to add clerestory windows to bring in more light. For the exterior paint, the couple ordered a custom color from Behr. “We were trying to approximate the gray-green of a Martini olive,” says John. 

Photo by Pippa Drummond

See the full story on Dwell.com: Writer Susan Orlean Restores a Schindler Classic in L.A.

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