First Look: Spectacular 1978 Brutalist House By Buff + Hensman In Pasadena, $2M


What: The Hollis House, Buff + Hensman, Architects, 1978
Asking: $1,998,000

Brutalism– a global style of civic architecture that emphasized bold, rough forms and a lot of poured concrete– was already on the wane when the Los Angeles firm of Buff + Hensman built this 2-bed, 2-bath (plus study) for George Truett Hollis and his wife in 1978. But the firm was nothing if not adept, and after a Mid-Century career of designing some of Los Angeles’ now-iconic Post-and-Beam houses, they had moved on to taming this grandiose style of public architecture into more domestic quarters. Still, rising out of the canyon, almost like it’s been extruded, this is no shrinking violet, and it’s hard to believe that Brutalism’s fortress-like sensibility was considered “optimistic”.

Alien to the traditions of domestic architecture in Pasadena, there’s no pool, no lawn, no gardens. Inside, the spaces are quietly austere with spectacular, unobstructable views to the magnificent San Gabriel Mountains, but no wide expanses of glass. Every view is both carefully framed and leads to a balcony, a reaction to the oil crises of the mid-70s.

A music professor and scholar of 18th-Century Spanish music, Hollis no doubt used this grand space for recitals. It’s very much a house of its time, however, literally an ivory tower rising straight up form the floor of the canyon, a serene place to make music isolated from the tumult of the time– the fall of the Shah in Iran, the hostage crisis that accompanied it, and the massive repudiation of Jimmy Carter administration by Ronald Reagan.

Back in their heyday, Buff + Hensman interiors specified pink-beiges and macho shades brown that made their houses look like they’d been flooded with caramel, but the sensitive renovation here replaced the original materials throughout with neutrals, grey cabinets and honed stone, leaving the design re-colored but fundamentally unaltered since it was built. Below, the view from the main deck is as lovely today as it was in the ’70s.

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