If, like us, you’re fans of the legendary 20th-century architect John Lautner, you’ll know his space-age designs are bold, beautiful and like nothing else on the planet. And, rather impressively, five or six decades after they were built, they still manage to look futuristic. We couldn’t help noticing the frequency of John Lautner houses in movies, from the Bond classic Diamonds are Forever (1971) to Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man (2009). Perched on hillsides on gravity-defying stilts, or built into the curves and rocks of mountainsides, they’ve become the gold standard for villain’s lairs. But even as the homes of bereaved college professors or drug-addled teens, they have a tendency to steal the show.
It was in California that Lautner made his mark on both geographical and celluloid landscapes, so we decided to take a look at some of Lautner’s starring moments in the Golden State.
The Elrod House, Palm Springs
Diamonds are Forever (1971)
Built in 1968 on a hillside in Palm Springs for interior designer Arthur Elrod, the Elrod House is iconic Lautner. He was given free rein to create whatever he wanted, and excavated the hill to construct the home around existing rocks, which are visible in its interiors.
If you know your Bond movies, you’ll remember it as the house of reclusive billionaire Willard Whyte in Diamonds Are Forever. In the classic scene, Sean Connery’s Bond saunters through its glass doors, jacket slung casually over his shoulder, to be met by bikini-clad gymnasts, Bambi and Thumper. At first sighting, Thumper is elegantly draped across the large rock in the living room, then Bambi catapults herself into the hanging light, her legs wrapped with a vice-like grip around Bond’s neck. They all end up in the pool, where Bond naturally prevails, shaken but not stirred.
The Chemosphere, Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles
Body Double (1984)
Photography: Elizabeth Daniels
This spectacular octagonal house is perched on a 30ft concrete pole in the Hollywood Hills, just off Mulholland Drive. Created by Lautner in 1960 for aerospace engineer Leonard Malin on what was considered an unworkable piece of land, it’s a remarkable feat of engineering. It has been the home of publisher Benedikt Taschen since 1998 and, given its remarkable appearance, has featured in a number of productions, from a brief cameo in Tomorrowland (2015) to an appearance in The Simpsons. Most notably, it starred in Brian De Palma’s R-rated thriller Body Double, a tale of voyeurism and obsession inspired by Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
Silvertop, Silver Lake, Los Angeles
Less Than Zero (1987)
The Reiner-Burchill Residence (aka Silvertop) overlooks the Silver Lake Reservoir in Los Angeles. A wildly creative endeavor, it was built by Lautner for inventor Kenneth Reiner, breaking ground in 1957. Reiner filled it with technological gizmos but ultimately failed to live in it. In 1974, it passed into the hands of the Burchill family, who lived in it for 40 years.
The house was designed to follow the contour of the hilltop, and has an arched living room roof with a curved window wall made from five hanging glass panels. It also has what may be the first example of a modern infinity-edged pool. In addition to being an iconic piece of LA architecture, Silvertop is famous for appearing in Less Than Zero, a movie about the hedonism of youth and drug culture in the Eighties, starring a young Robert Downey Jr.
Garcia House, Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles
Lethal Weapon II (1982)
In Lethal Weapon II, there’s a memorable scene where Mel Gibson attaches a drug dealer’s house to his pick-up truck and pulls it down a hillside. The house in question is the Garcia House on Mulholland Drive, in LA’s Hollywood Hills. Designed by Lautner in 1962 for Russell Garcia, it sits on 60ft stilts overlooking the canyon below. Its parabolic roof and colored windows earned it the nickname the “Rainbow House”. Luckily, the house destroyed in the movie was a replica, which is estimated to have cost $500,000 to build and destroy. The Rainbow House is still standing.
Sheats-Goldstein Residence, Beverly Hills
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Possibly Lautner’s most famous home, the Sheats-Goldstein Residence was built in 1963 for Helen and Paul Sheats and their three children. It was later bought by businessman James Goldstein, who worked with Lautner on many updates to the property. The dramatically angular structure is built into a sandstone ledge in Beverly Crest, LA, making organic use of the nature surrounding it. It’s one of Lautner’s most filmed designs, and makes a memorable appearance as porn king Jackie Treehorn’s house in the Coen brothers’ cult classic, The Big Lebowski.
Schaffer Residence, Verdugo Hills, Los Angeles
A Single Man (2009)
One of the least assuming (and least space-age) of Lautner’s movie-star homes, the Schaffer Residence is a small property in the foothills of the Verdugo Mountains above LA. Created in 1949 for the mother of one of his employees, it’s a two-bedroom house made of redwood, concrete and glass, with an open floor plan and glass walls. It was designed to fit into the surrounding oak forest, and is flooded with natural light. It features prominently in Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man, starring Colin Firth as a man struggling with bereavement. It’s a darkly-lit movie, so it’s not always easy to see the house in its full glory. However, that doesn’t stop it from stealing every scene.