What makes a great house? And what makes a great house distinctly American? In our weekly series of original home tours, House Calls, the answer is often history—whether that history is architectural, personal, or both—spunk, and awe-inspiring environments and views.
From the beaches of Fire Island, New York, to the hillsides of Los Angeles, California, here are a few of our favorite homes, each of which feels like it could only exist in the U.S. of A.
The oceanfront beach house of Britt-Louise Gilder, her husband Jamal, and their four children has the sand-and-surf spirit often found in residences on Fire Island in New York. The location was ideal and the circa-1968 home had character, but a renovation was in order. Gilder called on a firm she had worked with on a few projects in New York: Brooklyn-based Delson or Sherman Architects PC.
Christopher Caparro and Susanna Musotto’s 1964 Doug Rucker-designed home in Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon was “a beautiful shell that needed to be cleaned up.” It even had enough architectural chops that Caparro was able to have it officially recognized as a Historic-Cultural Monument by the city.
Richard and Cissy Ross—a photographer and a writer, respectively—have made their circa-1950s tract house in Santa Barbara home over the past four decades. The walls are covered in artwork and objects from the family’s travels, a patchwork of objects that reminds the couple of traveling across the globe with their (now-grown) children. “It’s the house of an artist and a poet and writer, made with a sense of fun, joy, and living, not trying to comply with everybody else’s standards,” says Richard.
Have you ever seen a house look more like a...mouth? Big Mouth House is the brainchild of and Steven Lazen, Kailin Gregga (who is a part of Best Practice Architecture & Design), and Rob Humble, founding partner and design principal for Hybrid Architecture. The collaboration meant that Gregga and Lazen could cut costs and customize a new-build home. For Humble, it would mean that one of three townhouses would already be occupied when the rest went on the market.
A pair of artists found their way to Buck’s County, Pennsylvania, when they stumbled upon a home with an interesting historical pedigree. Likely originally built in the 1800s, it was acquired in the middle of the 20th century by John Graham, who in the ’60s served as design director at NBC. The couple worked to preserve the details Graham built into the home while putting their own spin on things.
“It just seemed like this totally bizarre, Brutalist, postmodern house,” says Sam Grawe, former brand director of Herman Miller, of his family’s home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Through its Disco-age exuberance, the family saw good bones and ’70s charm, despite some unfortunate adjustments made over the years. They decided to take a risk and tackle a renovation, making the home their own in the process.
Architects-turned-bakers Bill Bowick and David Bouffard have a very quick commute to work every morning: seven steps. Their house, a classic, 1852 Charleston Single, is nestled next door to their bakery, Sugar Bakeshop. They bought the house and circa-1947 shop, in the fall of 2003, knowing they’d have to completely overhaul both.
In the lush, hilly Los Angeles neighborhood of Whitley Heights, Weidenfeld and Walden have made a home that merges Walden’s Southern roots, a stately flair inspired by Weidenfeld’s upbringing in Washington, D.C., and touches of midcentury modernism, all influenced by silent-screen-siren vibes.
Kamissa Mort and Elizabeth Edwards were looking to buy land and build anew when they stumbled upon a Robert Rummer-designed residence that completely reoriented their housing search. While only seven Rummer homes go on the market each cycle, one popped up right as they sold their farmhouse.
When it was built in 1946, the home of award-winning architect John Ike of Ike Kligerman Barkley had no design pedigree. But Ike was drawn to it by what he describes as an emotional pull. The whole project deals in the lexicon of the Golden State at the middle of the 20th century—without the constraining feeling of living in a temple.
Of the modern home he created in Chicago’s Wicker Park, architect Dan Wheeler or Wheeler Kearns Architects says: “I think it’s fair to say the site was a rare find.” At first glance, you see a handsome brick home that doesn’t loudly differentiate itself from neighboring structures. But, inside, the new structure feels far away from its 1800s roots.