Finding Inspiration: Southall House x Bough

Exploring Rudolf M. Schindler's Southall House

Built on a steep slope next to Elysian Park, Southall House overlooks the low hills that stretch between downtown Los Angeles and the Santa Monica Mountains. On a clear day, you can see the ocean. Birdsong and natural light fill the main living area of the house, entering through an expanse of windows that offer sweeping views of treetops as they slowly shift in the Southern California breeze. It’s a full sensory experience that engages sight and sound. Designed to harness the natural elements, the house is cantilevered over the hillside in a series of overlapping rectangular forms with an open floor plan that upholds an ardent belief in the idea that the outdoor and indoor should be in conversation with one another. The home feels alive and responsive, nurturing a deep connection between its inhabitants and the environment.

Built by Viennese-American architect Rudolf M. Schindler in 1938 for Mildred Southall, Southall House was designed in the full swing of Schindler’s career. Ms. Southall was a piano teacher and Los Angeles intellectual who was working with a small budget. Whereas Schindler’s early buildings are characterized by concrete construction and an abundance of raw materials, Southall is an entirely plywood structure — Schindler’s first. Devoted to working within his clients’ needs and budgets, Schindler experimented with construction techniques throughout his career in novel and extraordinary ways. Southall’s entire structure was built for $6,000. 

“With Southall, Schindler had a client who was both opinionated about her needs while also giving him free reign to continue his experiments in architecture.” Says Brendan Ravenhill. He and his partner Marjory Garrison moved into the house in 2012 and have been slowly restoring it since then.

Southall is an airy structure. A river stone fireplace with a flash of bronze and a massive expanse of glass windows are the only elements that interrupt the flow of plywood which moves as a single material through the entire space. Designed to be both a studio and a residence, the largest room in the house is a gathering space that was scaled to accommodate two grand pianos for lessons and recitals.

Schindler used simple materials to create extraordinary forms. He used simple elements, like the angles of the walls and the plane of the roof to create dynamic, flexible spaces that are intimate but not cramped. West facing windows and raised ceilings create almost a double height space, while exposed beams and lowered overlapping ceiling elevations create texture and acoustics. He sacrifices a lot of the personal spaces — bathrooms and bedrooms — to create grand gathering spaces outside of the norms of public to private ratios.” Says Brendan. “The design has been incredibly flexible as we’ve used it over the years. It still feels completely contemporary and modern.”

A progenitor of California Modernism and a hugely influential force in 20th-century design, Schindler came to Los Angeles by way of mentor and brief employer Frank Lloyd Wright in 1920. He was sent by Wright to complete the Hollyhock House project for him. He and Wright parted ways in 1921 and Schindler went on to found his own practice. Over the next 32 years, he built an estimated 150 projects, largely single-family houses, about 100 of which are located in and around Los Angeles. 

Schindler practiced what he called ‘Space architecture.’ Beyond simply designing structure, he was designing “space, climate, light, mood.” Experimenting with materials and form, the shape of rooms and ceiling height, manipulation of light and shadow, and a radical integration of interior and exterior spaces, Schindler wanted to harness the emotional impact of space. The intent and impact of the spaces he designed were intimately connected. Buildings, for him, were tools meant to inform and enhance how lives were lived. Design and architectural form was deeply informed by the needs of the inhabitants and the activities it would hold.

There’s a fluidity of space at Southall House where — in accordance with Ms. Southall’s wishes — rooms double as living and studio spaces as needed. The design expresses a spirited insistence on the fluidity of life where work and home life are in constant conversation, as are indoor and outdoor, human and nature, choices that reflect Schindler’s most passionate beliefs.

Built at a 45 degree axis to the hillside, Southall captures an enormous view and the full afternoon sun. One gets the sense that Schindler is moving you deliberately through the house as the heat and glare of the Los Angeles sun builds throughout the day. As the main room floods with light, the house draws you into the darker, lower-ceiling nooks of the interior or outdoors into nature. In the evenings, the house invites you back into its large golden lit room where you’re encouraged to gather with others.

“The house creates a certain flow to how we live in it. The way we use the house changes during parts of the day, and during parts of the year. We’re incredibly aware of the movements of the sun and seasons. We have rituals for when certain doors are opened and when certain curtains are pulled closed. At night the curtains open again to reveal the city skyline and views of the planets and moon.” Says Marjory.

Here at Schindler’s Southall House, Bough, a collection inspired by communal gatherings and in conversation with nature, finds a fitting home.

Thank you to Marjory Garrison and Brendan Ravenhill of Ravenhill Studio, the current stewards of Southall House, for generously inviting us into your space.