A HOUSE BY THE SILVER LAKE

STORY BY MARK CASTELLINO PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROGER DAVIES

A HOUSE BY THE SILVER LAKE

Actress Lisa Edelstein, known for her film roles and TV shows House and Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce, at the Japanese mid-century home in Silver Lake where she lives with her husband, the renowned artist Robert Russell.

If you are at all familiar with the decisive characters that Lisa Edelstein plays on-screen, it should come as no surprise that she had a specific criteria for the house she wanted to live in. Moving from her native New York, Lisa wanted a house which was “Japanese, modernist, mid-century and on one level, with a beautiful view that was private.” She said, “it had to be isolated, with a big garden, and near a dog park.”

It took almost a year from the time she briefed her presumably bemused realtor, but she found her dream home on a hilltop overlooking the Silver Lake reservoir. Everything was as she envisioned, right down to the dog park at the bottom of the hill. Why the specific list of requirements? “I love Craftsman houses. That was my first house. There’s something about their lines which are Japanese, the overhang, there are certain hints of that in the architecture. Very simple and dark and I love mid century furniture. I love wide open spaces, lots of windows. LA can be a very isolating city so having a view was important. I wanted it to feel like a private place, but not so isolated that I would be afraid.” She was single at the time.

The house was originally built by Edward ‘Think’ Adams, a founder of the Los Angeles Art School Center. Described as LA Historic-Cultural Monument #922, Adams and his wife, Virginia, bought the Silver Lake property in 1942. The house was a hipped roof bungalow built around 1906, with a location on a ridge that gave a full view of what is now the Silver Lake reservoir. Adams added the garage in 1948 and hired architect John Rex to design a concrete and stone deck at the rear of the two-bedroom house in 1955. Later that year, modernist architect Douglas Honnold completed a chimney and outdoor barbecue area. Both Rex and Honnold were instructors at the Art Center School of Design.

In 1966, Adams had most of the house rebuilt from a plan by A. Albert Cooling, who was also an instructor at the Art Center School. However, he died before the final phase for the house was designed, and Adams asked James DeLong to continue the design of the master bedroom section in 1977. DeLong’s years at Taliesin West in the late 1940s gave him a foundation to seamlessly design this final wing of the house while still giving it his own unique style. The bedroom addition was completed in 1983, two years after Adams’ death.

The organic architecture of the house imitates a version of the International Style, where the structure is entwined to its surroundings and becomes almost one with the land. This thought process, initially developed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is employed throughout the Adams House. Edward Adams desired that his own house serve as a palette for each architect to express their art.

The house sits on two lots overlooking the lake. From the moment you enter through the bright orange front door of the house Lisa now shares with her husband Robert Russell, you are transported from the good natured bustle of bohemian Silver Lake to a tranquil, meditative space, with softly gurgling water features and extensive gardens. The first thing you see is the clear blue of the lake through the pine trees, and beyond on the right, a house that is almost certainly Japanese influenced with its front-facing gable and a wrap around deck which juts out like the bow of a ship heading towards the water below. The flared roof line features an exposed roof beam with metal beam cap in a traditional Japanese-style design. Tall pines envelop the house giving it the appearance of a very large tree house perched atop the hillside.

The whispering water features, statues which Adams brought back from his Japanese travels, winding paths, which were in disrepair when Lisa moved in but which now criss-cross the base of the hill leading down to Robert’s art studio, all combine to create the tranquil illusion. The exterior of the house is clad in wood and glass and consists of a board and batten style with vertical posts extending from base to roof between the assortment of large fixed pane, sliding and casement windows. The house is surrounded by concrete and brick decks, with a section of partially cantilevered deck supported by angular beams and surmounted by a post and beam railing topped by a round beam. At the rear is a large brick chimney with an outdoor fireplace and barbecue which overlooks theswimming pool.

The previous owners were Glenn Lawson and Grant Fenning, owners of the Los Angeles showroom, Lawson Fenning. They were both Art Center students and the general agreement was that it only to be sold to Art Center students, as a tribute to Edward Adams. Lisa is the only non Arts Center student owner. “But I married an artist, she says, “so it should count

If the exterior ticks all the boxes that are Japanese related, the interior is decidedly mid century modern. The Japanese influences are present with the shoji screens in the master bedroom and in Lisa’s office. The original Japanese silk paneled wall cupboards border one wall of the living room with its cathedral ceiling, but the majority of the house is wood paneled in curly maple, pausing only for a huddle of paintings along the hallway that runs across the length of the house.

Though the wood paneled walls in the living room deter covering and remain largely blank, the hallway in comparison is a splattering of color, with paintings from artist friends like Charles Gaines, Edgar Arcenaux, Carter Mull and Henry Taylor. They sit alongside paintings and drawings that Robert and Lisa have made for each other. Some of the paintings are a trade, which Robert says is a benefit of having artist friends, since it allows each one to afford the other’s work. There is also a painting which was a gift from Lisa’s friend, the artist Kenny Scharf, which was given to her before she met Robert. It would also have been difficult to acquire the work on their living room wall, a rare artwork by Charles Gaines, if they were not already friends.

Like the house requirements, when Lisa met Robert Russell she also had a list of criteria for the man with whom she wanted to share her life. He had to be “a man who lived in Silver Lake, who was an artist – a Jewish, funny, sexy guy who was successful and who already had kids. And who would be willing to live in my house,” she laughs.

Lisa and Robert formed an immediate bond when they met. Even though they frequented the same places in Silver Lake, it took a serendipitous meeting at the Hammer Museum for them to get together. A fresh start and a renewed surge of creativity followed, in both their lives. Robert, who had lived across the lake before he met Lisa, found equal comfort in their new home. Even though he met and married Lisa after she bought the house, he has an unerring sense of belonging.

As you enter through the front door you’ll notice a small diorama on the right, which Robert inherited from his grandmother. It depicts an almost identical Japanese interior, with a picture of a water view and the orange coloring which is a trademark of the original Adams house. It’s an uncanny premonition that the diorama was made by his grandfather 40 years before Robert even stepped foot into this house.

“I wasn’t looking for a new house”, says Robert. “I was just divorced and finding my way. I had lived in Silver Lake for 20 years and here was this amazing house that I had never seen before. In a way, it was a metaphor for everything that was happening in my life. My world had become so small and here was this expansive view, a new environment, literally on the other side of the hill from where I lived.”

Robert had renovated two houses before and they found that they have similar sensibilities. Together, they designed the art studio where Robert now works on his paintings, and a guest house by the pool. Lisa drawing the concepts, Robert rendering it in Photoshop. Robert Russell is a renowned and cerebral artist, with some critics comparing his brushwork and judicious sense of light to artists like Lucien Freud. His art projects are diverse and slightly whimsical. A recent series of paintings was a collection of people also named ‘Robert Russell’, all of whose pictures he found on Google. Another series is a collection of paintings of books about famous artists. His current project entitled Amateurs, is about the proliferation of internet pornography and erotica.

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The house is a refuge from the bustling activity of Silver Lake, and Los Angeles in general. The tall pine trees, together with the shards of blue water in the reservoir glimpsed through the greenery, form a scene reminiscent of a mountain resort. On the far horizon, the freestanding letters of the Hollywood sign look like a signpost to a distant land.

The quietness suits both Lisa and Robert. For Lisa it’s a welcome interlude from New York when she grew up, and where she also spends time filming the successful Bravo TV series, Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce. For Robert, the solitude is equally welcome for him to pursue his painting, although he does love music. The indie band, Lord Huron loops through the sound system as we spend the day there, with Robert singing along. His solid calmness complementing her zanier personality.

If there is one takeaway she learned from her show, Lisa says, that it is not to take relationships for granted. There is an artwork above their bed, which is a rare collaboration between the artists, Charles Gaines and Andrea Bowers. It’s a representation of a ketubah – Lisa and Robert’s marriage vows. To the right of the Sam Moyer designed bed, on a ledge is a small graphite drawing which Robert made of their engagement ring.

Throughout the house there are drawings and paintings that Robert and Lisa have made for each other – faces, expressions of love. A painting of a dove he presented to Lisa two days after they met hangs momentously in the hallway. Robert relates an endearing story that when Lisa craved certain clothes that were insanely expensive, he illustrated them for her instead. Those drawings now still hang by her closet. When he gave her the drawing of the engagement ring, she was at first unsure whether that also meant she wasn’t getting the real thing, but Robert had the ring hidden underneath the card. It’s a life of surprises with a sense of harmony which, along with the camaraderie shown by their artist friends, makes for a fine sense of community. It’s something that would make Edward Adams proud, and equally happy.

The second season of Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce is currently showing on Bravo. A portfolio of Robert Russell’s work can be see at robertrussell.ne

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