Old Soul

In the 1920s, Angelenos clamored for designs from Europe. L.A. wants the look again, but a Pasadena home by Marc Appleton shows why you have to keep it simple

Photographs by Tim Street-Porter


Some see it as a flood of ego, others a surge of affection for older European architecture, but enormous homes of Mediterranean derivation were soon consuming entire residential lots. Most were circuslike concoctions of elements (columns, towers, ornamental carvings) that historically had been used sparingly and for subtle effect. They indiscriminately mixed Spanish with Italianate with whatever else caught the owner’s fancy. Too many of the McMansions practiced symmetry to a fault, oblivious to the fact that the appeal of classic Mediterranean—particularly as interpreted in elegant 1920s homes in Pasadena, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills—was in its linear irregularity.

Marc Appleton knew the difference. His grandparents owned Florestal, the 1925 George Washington Smith house in Santa Barbara that architectural historian David Gebhard pronounced one of the great homes of the era. After working for Frank Gehry, Appleton opened his own firm, his designs informed by his studies of Smith and others. His work drew the attention of Richard and Mary Alice Frank. For their second dream home (the first had been a striking Calvin Straub contemporary they commissioned in 1956), they wanted to go further back in time. The Mediterranean revival look was a good fit for the neighborhood but the rectangular design a challenge for the narrow lot. Appleton’s solution for the house—finished in 1998—was to slightly bow the building. A loggia off the pool recalls the outdoor rooms of the grand European homes, and wood beams and limestone fireplaces evoke their picturesque interiors.

Three Who Inspired Him

San Marino | 1928
» For his own residence, Neff adopted an unimposing facade in the Lombardy tradition. But while the exterior was spare, the interior was an indoor-outdoor Eden of high-ceilinged rooms opening onto fountain-decked terraces.



Los Angeles | 1925
» To take the edge off city life, Kaufmann created elaborate pri-vate spaces, such as this pool with a pavilion behind the Eisner House. He frequently added loggias—his answer to the sleeping porch—to second-floor bedrooms. 



Beverly Hills | 1926
» Dramatic stairways such as this one in the Kern Residence were a signature of Smith’s Italianate Mediterranean houses. He ultimately became famous for his adaptations of the country houses of Spain.




Illustrations by Paul Rogers

Photographs by Tim Street-Porter

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Herold was at the Los Angeles Times from 1983 to 2007, and was managing editor of the Times’ Sunday magazine for 16 years. The Santa Barbara native has written extensively on her hometown and on homes and gardens, food, travel, and sports, and won a James Beard Foundation Award for a piece that appeared in Saveur magazine. She is also a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Southern California.