Case Study House #22: A Modernist Icon Built for Family Living

Next in the series, let’s take a look at the most iconic contribution to the Case Study House Program that went on to become one of the most famous mid-century modern homes in the world: the Stahl House, or Case Study House #22 by architect Pierre Koenig. Arts & Architecture inducted the house into Program in early 1959, and construction was completed just over a year later in May of 1960.

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The Stahl house story begins back in 1954 when C.H. “Buck” Stahl and his wife Carlotta purchased a small lot above Sunset Blvd. on a handshake and $13,500. The property offered spectacular views, but the Stahls realized early on that building on the precarious hillside lot would be something of a feat. Over the next few years, Buck and Carlotta worked weekends hauling leftover blocks of concrete up to the property in the back of Buck’s Cadillac, hopeful the reinforcements would keep the land in place.

During those weekend trips, Buck began to realize his vision for the house: a modern home with glass-and-steel construction that offered panoramic views of the Los Angeles cityscape below. In the Summer of 1956, he created a three-dimensional model of the future Stahl House, and used it to shop around for an architect willing to take on the project.

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Buck’s designs were promptly rejected by several notable architects who refused to build on such a difficult location, but in late 1957, the Stahl’s luck changed when they met a young architect named Pierre Koenig. He had just passed his California State Board architecture exams, and was eager to take on the challenge of building on a site nobody else would touch. Before Koenig officially accepted the job, he asked John Entenza to consider its inclusion in the Case Study Program. Entenza agreed, which is how the project became known as Case Study House No. 22.

Koenig looked at the site location as an advantage rather than an impediment, and honed in on Stahl’s original vision of a house with glass and steel construction that plays up the breathtaking view while effortlessly blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor living. “You see the view and you’re living with the environment, the outside,” said Koenig.

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Uninterrupted glass walls wrap the exterior to allow for 270-degree views of the city, spanning from the Pacific coast to just east of downtown. In a way, Koenig’s deliberate use of minimalist white steel and glass for the exterior allows Los Angeles itself to become the walls of the house. The geometry and symmetry of the linear design reflect the grid lines of Hollywood streets directly below.

Paradoxically, for one of the most-photographed homes in America, the schism between public and private spaces couldn’t be more extreme. Koenig organized the spatial layout with great consideration, and created a distinct shift in atmosphere between the public living area and private bedrooms to give the family members a feeling of enclosure and security. Koenig also placed the house on the lot with the family in mind: From the street, almost nothing is visible.

A single hallway connects the bedroom wing and communal living space, which are wrapped around a swimming pool that must be crossed in order to enter the house. The kitchen area is defined by a lowered wooden ceiling that creates a room within a room, while a rectangular stone chimney acts as a visual anchor between the dining and living rooms.

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The Stahl House photos taken by architectural photographer Julius Shulman in 1960 played a huge role in its rise to fame and enduring notoriety. His photograph of two young women relaxing in the living room as it hovers over the cityscape at twilight has been called the “most iconic image of Los Angeles.”

Today, the house is still owned by the Stahl family. Tours are available several days a week, and anyone with a reservation can check out the view, architecture and interior of one of the most famous examples of Mid-Century Modern architecture.

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