The house at the edge of the world

Nestled into the sandstone ledge of a Los Angeles hillside, the Sheats-Goldstein residence blurs the lines between building, furniture and natural surroundings. Its bold triangular forms, sculpted from poured-in-place concrete, appear to grow organically from the landscape, maximizing city and hillside views through walls of glass.

The Sheats-Goldstein Residence | Photography by Joe Fletcher

Built in 1963 by legendary architect John Lautner, the home’s sweeping angles, dramatic cantilevers, and seamless integration with its natural surroundings have made it a mecca for design enthusiasts worldwide and have made it a project even bigger than its larger-than-life inhabitant, James Goldstein (AKA Mr. Los Angeles, most recognized by his Balmain-clad court side appearances at NBA games), who has donated the home to the LACMA after his passing. 

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“Lautner’s work is the next evolution of his teacher Frank Lloyd Wright’s search for a uniquely American architectural language,” said architects Conner + Perry, “it is somehow of its time and timeless, an expression of boundless optimism and freedom, an attempt to reconnect us to nature through an embrace of technological advancement with a deep appreciation of human craft.”

“…And this is why Lautner’s architecture found its place here in Southern California. The Sheats-Goldstein residence is one of the best examples of these pursuits as he was given the opportunity, the time, and the means to perfect the home over years of collaboration with Goldstein. “

The Sheats-Goldstein residence’s cultural impact

Beyond its architectural significance, the residence has become an indelible part of Los Angeles’ cultural fabric. Its iconic presence has graced the silver screen in films like “The Big Lebowski,” and “James Bond,” and has been featured in countless music videos and fashion spreads, epitomizing the city’s bold, artistic spirit.

“So much of Los Angeles’ cultural capital is tied up in its unique domestic landscape. There is a history of bold architectural experimentation here that can most readily be found in residential projects where the stakes are a bit lower than public projects,” explains Conner + Perry, “but the potential for individual expression is higher. This is the result of the confluence of a general irreverence for the past, a creative community that values individuality, and a sense that this place was somehow the last great frontier . . . the edge of the world.” 

“… The thing that differentiates this property from many other significant mid-century homes in LA is that it is not a static museum frozen in time or a private retreat. It is full of life, with tours, and shoots, and events, all of which expose the public to this unique work of art; and it is alive in that it is continuously growing and evolving, with a lineage of three generations of architects and a team of consultants and tradespeople who make it all possible.”

Skyspace on the property by James Turrell

Three generations of architectural vision

Behind the striking façade there is a deeper story about relentless dedication to preserve Lautner’s transcendent vision amidst the march of time and changing needs. A dynamic architectural duo has taken up the mantle as the property’s current architects of record: Conner + Perry Architects, led by Kristopher Conner and James Perry.

In 2015 they assumed the role of architects of record after the passing of Duncan Nicholson, who had continued Lautner’s work following the architect’s death in 1994. But their journey with the Sheats-Goldstein residence began long before that: Having previously collaborated with Nicholson for eight years on the project, Conner + Perry were already intimately familiar with the residence’s storied history and the challenges of balancing preservation with innovation. When you visit the residence and speak with Conner + Perry about the Sheats-Goldstein residence, you feel the weight of carrying on the architectural legacy of a project of this magnitude. 

“There is a sense of optimism and fearlessness in John and Duncan’s work that we think the world desperately needs at this moment,” said Conner + Perry, “Architecture, especially residential architecture, is being relentlessly reduced to the lowest common denominator of commodity and trend by regulatory and economic forces that are generally out of our control; when in fact it is architecture’s ability to transcend those forces that brings true value to the people who inhabit and experience these spaces, and to the world at large. When building approaches art, expressing ideas and emotions in structure and space, while serving its intended purpose without pretense, that is when Architecture comes alive.”

Conner+Perry on preservation and innovation

Upon being asked what the most rewarding and challenging components of taking on the project are, the architects had this to say: “The most rewarding aspects of this project are twofold: Firstly, working with a client and patron like Jim [Goldstein] who enjoys the process as much as the outcome and has the perseverance to pursue an architecture that will stand the test of time. 

“Secondly, the experience of really getting to know this place and sharing it with other people. The look on a student’s face when seeing the project for the first time is something to behold, and allows us to continually view it with fresh eyes, maintaining a sense of wonder and curiosity crucial to a sustainable practice.”

“The most challenging aspect has by far been navigating the increasingly complex regulatory environment in Los Angeles, and to maintain a focused vision for the future of the project. To develop a masterpiece over decades is a herculean effort that requires the dedication not only of its patron, but of a whole team of people, individuals who give their time and energy in the pursuit of something that will benefit generations to come by providing a source of inspiration that can only truly be appreciated in person…”

“Due to the regulatory complexities of building in Los Angeles these days and our team’s unwillingness to compromise on the architectural vision for the property, designing, planning, and permitting these projects can take years before we are able to break ground. Jim is also frequently abroad and taking inspiration from his travels. He will come back with ideas for changes to the designs that will often push the project timelines further, but in the end he seems to enjoy the process of design as much, if not more, than the realization of those ideas in construction.”

A concrete legacy

A cornerstone of Conner+Perry’s work is their commitment to upholding the legacy of built-in furniture, a tradition pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright and embraced by Lautner. The original residence boasts iconic built-in concrete desks, shelving, and benches that exemplify the unity of architecture and furnishings.

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“Wright treated furniture as an integral part of the overall design, rather than separate pieces,” said Conner+Perry, breaking down a core tenant of organic architecture. “Lautner continued this philosophy, and we’re carrying that torch by incorporating built-in concrete elements into all our new additions.” This is where you begin to see Conner + Perry’s fingerprints on the project. 

Situated adjacent to the main residence and below an infinity tennis court, the Entertainment Complex includes a nightclub, offices, outdoor terraces, and amenities – all designed to integrate seamlessly with the original structures. 

The nightclub, Club James overlooks the infinity pool and boasts striking panoramic views of Los Angeles
Club James

The lower terrace level of the Entertainment Complex features original Conner + Perry custom furniture including benches, lounge tables, bars, a custom BBQ, and dining tables that cantilever dramatically towards sweeping city views.

These pieces, complemented by glass and stainless steel accents, “extend the language of the architecture out into the landscape, negotiating the relationship of the structure with the extensive tropical landscape that Jim has developed over the decades,” the architects explained, “The glass and metal details have a clear relationship to those in the house and the [night]club, but have become perhaps a little bit more expressive.” 

With several ambitious projects in the pipeline, Conner + Perry’s stewardship of the Sheats-Goldstein estate is far from over. Future plans include a 20-seat screening room, reception area, and a dramatic flying-V shaped guest house designed to echo the original residence’s bold geometries, and nearly completed built-in benches surrounding the tennis court.

Cultural preservation and inspiring future generations

Conner + Perry’s work educates aspiring architects on the principles of organic architecture, demonstrating that innovation can flourish while respecting tradition. It is their hope that the Sheats-Goldstein residence, “set a precedent that will allow access to similar homes throughout the country so that future generations can be inspired to pursue designs that push the boundaries of architecture.”

“This residence is a piece of living architecture, a celebration of human creativity and our innate connection to the natural world,” Conner+Perry said. “Our role is to nurture that spirit, allowing it to evolve and inspire generations to come, just as Lautner intended.” | To learn more about Conner+Perry Architects, visit them online.

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