In 2007, Sarah Lorenzen, M Arch 97, associate professor of architecture in the College of Environmental Design at Cal Poly Pomona, moved into and began to restore an old house in Los Angeles. But it wasn’t some rickety Southern California bungalow—it was the VDL House, a glass-walled home constructed in 1932 by pre-eminent modernist architect Richard Neutra, where he lived and worked until his death in 1970.
Lorenzen and her husband and business partner, David Hartwell, now live in the home’s Garden House. They tend to the structures and property and raise awareness and funds for its preservation. They even celebrated the house with an interactive iPad app released last year. Lorenzen shared with the Alumni Magazine some of the challenges and joys of being the historic house’s caretaker and resident.
• In addition to repainting, re-plastering and re-caulking parts of the structure, Lorenzen says, “I also had the house rewired to prevent a repeat of the 1963 disaster, when the original VDL house, built in 1932, burned down.”
• “Funnily enough, the furniture we already had fit the color and style of the house. The biggest issue is that we have to try to keep the space neat, and given that both David and I work from home this is sometimes difficult.”
• Lorenzen is especially intrigued by Neutra’s formal and material language. “What is most interesting about the VDL residences is that, because it was built in three phases—1932, 1939 and 1965—you can see in one place how Neutra’s designs evolved over the course of his career.”
• “A lot of what we do is very unglamorous manual labor,” Lorenzen admits. “Still, we do really enjoy living in the space and sharing this experience with our friends and family. There are few things that I enjoy more than sharing a meal and a bottle of wine with friends sitting in the courtyard of the house.”
• “As I write this I am sitting in the dining room of the Garden House looking into the courtyard. Dappled light is coming through the Chinese Elm tree and patches of blue sky are visible in a small reflecting pool. These are the kinds of experiences that I hope to reproduce in my own work as an architect.”