Finding Schindler

By the time architect Steven Ehrlich stumbled on the forgotten house by the midcentury master in Inglewood, it seemed almost beyond saving. But with some expert attention, the modernist haven is now the much-loved home of Ehrlich’s daughter and her family
    • Page 1Drought-tolerant plantings flow across the yards of two adjoining Rudolph Schindler houses. The home at right is owned by Onna Ehrlich and Joel Bell.

    • Page 1A decades-old grapevine inspired Ehrlich to re-create the trellis at Schindler’s famed Kings Road residence.

    • Page 1Ehrlich reconstructed a period telephone desk just inside the entry using wood repurposed from the kitchen. It’s topped with a vintage turntable belonging to Joel Bell.

    • Page 1The military plywood favored by Schindler makes up the closet in the master bedroom and a small vanity.

    • Page 1The family gathers in the kitchen, which was modernized but hews to the original space.

    • Page 1Layers of paint were stripped from the fireplace to expose the old brick, while new glass doors mimic their 1930s predecessors.

The condition of the house in 2009 was so grim—windows thick with dirt, the paint faded nearly to oblivion, wallpaper peeling, the weeds taller than her toddler son—that Onna Ehrlich couldn’t bear to walk in. Husband Joel Bell, though, could see the great bones beneath the grime, the lines that only a genius like Rudolph Schindler could draw.

Plus the price was right. The couple had been looking for a home on the Westside to be near Onna’s father, Steven Ehrlich, the renowned architect based in Culver City. But the costs had made such an acquisition seem hopeless. Then Steven had dinner with friends from the Otis College of Art and Design who live in one of three houses the midcentury modernist had built in 1940 on a tree-shaded block in Inglewood. He noticed the Schindler next door was for sale, the listing at $265,000.

Onna and Joel snatched it up. Despite the neglect, the original structure had not been tampered with. The beamed entryway—a detail Schindler is known for—was intact. So was the military plywood of bluish green used for the closets and hallway. The wood floor in the living room was unsalvageable, but the original front door was there until a burglar took a crowbar to it during the remodel. Joel derives joy knowing that its replacement swings on vintage hinges that emit the same squeak as when Schindler signed off on the project.

While the house is small (slightly less than 1,000 square feet), the open floor plan gives the illusion of space. So do the big windows—where James, their five-year-old son, watches the jets flying into LAX—and the glass doors in back that open onto a serene yard. There the family found a 70-year-old grapevine had taken over the place. Ehrlich designed a trellis inspired by the one at Schindler’s Kings Road masterpiece in West Hollywood to hold it aloft. Bricks from the old patio were recycled to construct the new lounging space as well as a large raised vegetable bed. Out front, the sloping ground was planted in modernist-appropriate succulents and a communal seating area created, where everyone convenes to view the Fourth of July fireworks along the coast and for other neighborly occasions. It’s a tight-knit enclave the family has joined, with residents text­ing one another if something looks amiss and James riding his bicycle down the sidewalks in a scene reminiscent of Leave It to Beaver.

Now Onna, who resisted the notion of acquiring a dilapidated house four years ago, glows as she surveys the home’s simple elegance. “And to think the couple looking at the house as we arrived were talking about tearing it down,” she says.

Made in L.A.

One couple’s commute is five minutes, and they take pride in hiring locally

Onna Ehrlich, who grew up in Nigeria, and Joel Bell, a Pasadena native, met while students at Art Center College of Design. “I got a degree and a husband,” jokes Onna, who turned her attention postgraduation to fashion while Joel launched his own industrial design operation.

The two had been working out of their home and renting spaces before they decided to consolidate in one place. Not a mile from their new house was a two-story, 4,800-square-foot warehouse that seemed perfect. Now their “factory” accommodates both of their enterprises, the most intriguing sight the sewing machines that produce Onna’s accessories—displayed in all their colorful grandeur in an airy atrium (right). Among them are sophisticated leather handbags that draw on her African background; the shape of one purse was inspired by the way her mother wore her head wrap. Meanwhile her striking jewelry, which has a cosmopolitan flair, uses only conflict-free gems.

The couple employ 16 people, from leather workers to business staff. The latter, young women all, have an additional reason to enjoy the site, which was opened up to lend a modernistic feel: It’s across the street from the El Camino Fire Academy. “The room clears when the firefighters are out training,” Onna says.

Photographs by Dave Lauridsen