Friends will often ask my about my profession; how do you design a house, what sort of style do you like, how do you come up with ideas? Most of the time I’ll talk about how important it is to get the fundamentals right because that’s what creates a great space. Things like daylight, ventilation and breeze, proportion, views, site. Sometimes I’ll talk about the design principles that we utilise in projects like compressing and releasing spatial volume , framing of views, and indoor/outdoor connection. But what is often hardest to explain is the sense of the space, and how the architectural ideas translate into a desired feeling; why the architect created a dark compressed entry that hides what’s beyond so that once you walk through the front door you’re greeted with a view that is so memorable it stays with you forever.
Recently while on a holiday to Hawaii, I took two of my friends to see Liljestrand House by Vladimir Ossipoff in the hills of Honolulu. It is a masterful example of mid-century architecture with so many moments of awe I thought my chest was going to explode. This was one of those times when being in the space made explaining my job to my friends a whole lot easier.
What stood out to me the most is how much thought went into the home. In the kitchen pull-out shelves are designed into the cabinetry so Mrs Liljestrand could reach the high cupboards (in her heels mind you). Also fascinating, but not necessarily commendable, is that the poor family had to camp in the house for several years after completion while the architect designed all the built in furniture. That was part of the deal, “you can’t be putting Kmart shit in this beautiful home I’ve designed”. Not an exact quote, but I guess architects in the 50’s were just as engrossed in their designs as architects today.
Visiting this house was so refreshing. I’m not exactly sure why I love mid century homes so much. Maybe its that this era of architects were masters of mood through their use of light and tone of material. It could also be the ingenuity of the design and the built in furniture, the freedom to try quirky ideas, or maybe its a combination of all these things. If I’m completely honest, I just want to design in the 50’s and 60’s with less rules so I can design sexy non-compliant balustrades.
Thanks to the wonderful volunteers at the Lilljestrand Foundation for taking us through the home. If you are ever passing through Honolulu, this place is a must.