After years of listening to the fervent communist discussions in their family van der Kar home (part 1), brothers Peter and Billy Shire embraced their roots in the form of design (part 2). It seems that their parents’ creativity rubbed off more than their politics did, and there was no question that both sons would work in the right-brain world, talents that would no doubt help them refurbish a midcentury home.
In 2005, when Barbara Shire moved in with Peter and his wife, Donna, the house looked ready for a refurbish. Although much loved, there were things Peter wanted to fix and surfaces needed refreshing.
“There were two funny glitches: Dad had an extreme idea of privacy so the front is virtually all a wall; there’s a view across the canyon that wasn’t valued at all,” he says ruefully. Another thing was the stairs to the formal entry had almost equal weight with the steps to the kitchen door where friends always arrived. And par for the decade, the lights and plugs were minimal, and there was no space for a dryer. Peter also thought the living room needed some pep.
“Dad and Joe spent hours going over the Munsell color wheel,” he remembers. “The original kitchen was pea green, salmon pink and two shades of gray with some yellow details. My room was hot pink, Billy’s, bright blue. The other few painted surfaces ran into the chartreuses and pinks.
“But Mom was very Berkeley. When it came to be her turn to paint it, she darkened it up and went for more formal hues. My dad was pretty whacked out but was subject to my mom’s taste. [This time,] I just had to make everything high majors.”
Billy and Peter Shire tracked van de Kar down at his home 18 months before the architect died. “Joe’s house had bright colors in the bookcase, and when I showed him what I was thinking of for our house, he encouraged us to make the new colors even brighter,” Peter explains. Also, the wood trellis was rotting after 50 years, so they showed him a proposal for doing an aluminum trellis. “He gave me his blessing for the new trellis. My brother and I had several beautiful afternoons with him in his home in Zuma Beach; he was 95 at the time.”
After addressing the mundane—a new furnace—and the sublime—the new powder-coated trellis—the house and edited garden were ready for new tenants. Rented out to a young couple working in the film industry, all of a sudden, the house is alive again. And all it took was a quick refurbish.
“The whole house was a piece. I see it the way I see making a sculpture,” Peter says. “We were continually impressed that it doesn’t really provide for nostalgia or sentimentality or even a gathering of humanistic souvenirs. In the classic Shulman photo, the guy is at the stereo, the girl is sitting in her formal sheath dress on the very tailored single-pad sofa and, out the window is the Austin Healey in the carport. Where were the pictures of grandma or the kids? Where are the kids’ handprints?”
“Growing up in Echo Park we got so many different influences, particularly from Mexican-American kids,” Billy adds. “My three best friends in elementary school were Chinese, Japanese and Filipino. We got a little from all of those cultures. I have been doing my store for 35 years; it’s a pop culture emporium but it goes beyond that into ethnographic cultures. This house is Hank’s woodpile and we’re a visual clan.”