What We're Reading

Fashionable Los Angeles and Old World New York shine in a pair of lavish new books

Books
L.A. Modern by Tim Street-Porter

L.A. Modern
By Tim Street-Porter; introduction by Nicolai Ouroussoff (Rizzoli, $75)

Open this elegant book to almost any page and you might be tempted to linger for a while. The classic modernist houses depicted here may have steel frames and glass walls, or perhaps a glazed roof and concrete floors. They undoubtedly have clean interior lines and blend seamlessly with the outdoors—the lush flora, the swimming pools, the waterfalls cascading just beyond their walls. Now picture the Angelenos who once inhabited these houses—sipping crisp cocktails at twilight, gazing out at the city lights or the distant hills—and envy their lives, as I do.

Not long ago, a number of these modernist residences—designed by such luminaries as Richard Neutra and Pierre Koenig—had fallen on difficult times. "When I was hired as the architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times in the mid-1990s," writes Nicolai Ouroussoff in his introduction, "most of the great modernist houses built in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were still in disrepair. Some of them were still occupied by their original owners, who often could barely afford the upkeep."

A few classics, such as Rudolph Schindler's 1928 Wolfe House, met with the wrecking ball, but many others were restored by leaders in the entertainment and financial industries. Fully revived, these structures once again evoke the heady, postwar era—when a house wasn't only where you ate and slept; it was a projection of a "new American dream."

Take the brash 1940s Eames House, "whose delicate steel frame," Ouroussoff writes, "rested in a meadow framed by eucalyptus trees, like an apparition conjured out of thin air." Or Koenig's Case Study House No. 22, made famous by Julius Shulman's iconic photograph. Ethereal and solid, its concrete foundation extending boldly over the hill on which it was built, the house is the definition of L.A. cool. These residences may have been emblematic of a new American dream, but for their lucky inhabitants, they represent a chic and shimmering reality. — Sudip Bose

Who Will Love It: Lovers of classic L.A.

Where to Keep It: On the coffee table

How to Describe It: Stylish

Books2,
The Houses of Greenwich Village by Kevin D. Murphy

The Houses of Greenwich Village
By Kevin D. Murphy; photography by Paul Rocheleau (Abrams, $45)

New York City's Greenwich Village is most often called "the Village," a once-bohemian quarter known for its ultraliberal way of life and colorful personalities—think Stonewall and Edith Wharton. Images of buildings don't typically come to mind. Then along comes this book to show us that, physically, the Village is indeed a village—and the city's most enduring one, thanks to a collection of houses long on lineage and charm.

Both text and photos give the royal treatment to 20 worthy examples. Kevin Murphy tells tales of designers, builders, and owners while describing how architecture and interiors have changed over the years. Or not. Indeed, much has been preserved, as Paul Rocheleau shows, taking us from facades to parlors to dining rooms and kitchens, then out again into improbably tranquil gardens.

The stars of this album are Federal and Greek Revival row houses, brick-fronts like the William Depew (1830) and Samuel E. Bourne (1843) houses, which somehow manage to be both severe and sumptuous. Also present are examples from the later 19th century, a time that saw the advent of trim and, eventually, whole facades made of brownstone. Modernism gets its due as well, with the Cherner-O'Neill House—a rooftop addition to an 1801 dwelling—and the 2005 Modernist House, whose inviting interior provides a marked contrast to a front wall mostly covered by a dull metal plate. — Arnold Berke 

Who Will Love It: New York fans everywhere

Where to Keep It: Anyplace people gather

How to Describe It: An eye-opener

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