Growing up in a Josef van der Kar home in Los Angeles, life for Peter and Billy Shire wasn’t exactly cookie cutter. Their version of a typical night in the ‘50s was listening to Marxist arguments of their parents’ various communist meetings (part 1). Growing up among progressive discussions about standard of living and materialism had an interesting effect on the brothers and their aesthetic choices.
The Shire house was equally progressive, with a radiant floor in its three bedrooms and two baths. “Dad had a keen sense of entry, so there is a formal foyer that’s as big as both closet-size baths combined,” Peter says. The living room leads to a bedroom with a 4-foot sliding door; accordion doors divided the other two bedrooms off the kitchen. He remembers a mishmash of furnishings: Eames dining chairs; a custom sofa designed a little too high coupled with a low, low coffee table; inherited post-Colonial upholstered chairs; and furniture and various built-ins homemade by his dad.
As the baby, Billy’s room was off the kitchen so their stay-at-home mom could keep an eye on him. “There was a sandbox in the front patio that you could look out on from the kitchen, and a paneled wall between the front yards devised to keep us kids in the yard while my mom cooked,” Peter recalls. “That lasted about a month; as soon as we could walk and figure out how to open the gate, we were out on the street playing.”
His impression of the original Eckbo landscaping was of a diagonal grid of hardscape squares, and plantings of avocado and guava trees and a hedge of natal plum. The flat portions of the lot were divided into three areas: an informal yard off the kitchen entry fenced off with a Japanese-style partition of fiberglass panels; a built-in barbecue and incinerator off the dining room; and a private backyard adjacent to the living room and bedrooms.
“Everybody else’s house was weird,” Billy Shire offers. “We were kind of steeped in the aesthetic, so to speak. The first thing I wanted to be was an architect instead of a fireman. Even though my father was fairly working class, we had art all around. One of my favorite playthings as a child was the little blocks he’d cut up from cast-off wood. They were basic geometric shapes and I’d make sculptures and sculptural buildings. You can see that in my brother’s work; it’s really architectural.”
Reviving Josef van der Kar
Years later, the Shire boys refresh their family’s Josef van der Kar home, bringing in a period aesthetic with a dash of their own design experiences. Find out what stayed and what got the heave-ho in part 3!