When I moved into my house a couple of years ago, I wanted to know as much as possible about the house’s architect: Roger Lee. It surprised me how someone who had won so many awards, was mentioned alongside other architects of the time whose names I knew, and was recognized as one of forty U.S. architects who have “made personal contributions to American Architecture” became relatively unknown. The curator of UC Berkeley’s Environmental Design Archives, Waverly Lowell, even described him as one of “the Bay Area's great forgotten architects.”
Lee is part of an ongoing pattern of minimizing and erasing the contributions of Asian-American designers. The fact is that many quintessentially American buildings- from the Twin Towers by Minoru Yamasaki to the Googie-style diners of LA by Helen Liu Fong- have been designed by Americans of Asian descent, and a lot of people don’t know it.
This week, I wanted to highlight homes for sale from Asian-American designers, both to bring visibility to them as people and to recognize their contributions pushing the architecture envelope.
The Mid-Century Modern
Location: 2449 Panorama Ter, Los Angeles, CA 90039
List Price: $1,689,000
Hideo Matsunaga was an architect of Japanese heritage who designed many mid-century modern residences in Southern California. He was also one of the designers for the Japanese American Community and Cultural Center in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo neighborhood.
This stunning mid-century modern home in the hills above Silver Lake was designed by Matsunaga to be his family home. The home has an inviting courtyard entrance that blends the outdoors with the indoors. I love how the board-formed concrete flows between the two spaces and creates a naturally textured surface.
Strangely enough, one of my favorite places in the whole house is the laundry room. The exposed beams and raw concrete finishes give the space a lot of warmth and character. This room would make a lovely woodworking or art studio, or beautiful gym space.
Sadly, Matsunaga died in October after contracting COVID. His family requested donations to their church or the Japanese American National Museum in lieu of flowers or koden. I’ve made a donation to the museum in his honor.
The Sundial House
Location: 7191 Encelia Dr, La Jolla, CA 92037
List Price: $6,900,000
The Sundial is the personal home of C.W. Kim, a Korean-American architect who designed the Emerald Plaza in downtown San Diego. With strong lines and lots of circular elements, his home is no exception to the bold geometric shapes of his other work. The entrance to this home is over a terraced bridge that arches over a large swimming pool, so naturally, I was in love from the start.
The centerpiece of this home is the barrel-vaulted ceiling with arched beams spanning the wide living space. Much of the living area has generous light from the many skylights and arched floor-to-ceiling windows at both ends which also provide views of the pool and the ocean.
The smaller common areas feel cozy in and sharp in comparison with their angular post-and-beam style, but it’s still complementary to the rest of the house and gives it a dynamic feel.
My favorite detail in the house might be the master bedroom with its sweeping ocean views, built-in circular bed, and a circular alcove ceiling to match. There is something quietly glamorous about this house without keeping things too inside the box.
The Bluff House
Location: 1865 Centro West St, Tiburon, CA 94920
List Price: $13,700,000
Fu-Tung Cheng is a Berkeley-based designer who quite literally wrote the book on designing with concrete (three, actually). Although he is not trained as an architect, he has grown his career from designing and writing about concrete countertops to establishing a firm where he designs homes (with the consultation of architects and engineers) that feature concrete prominently, often in colorful and sculptural applications. The Bluff House is no exception.
The house itself is beautiful, but its beauty is amplified by the absolutely stunning view of the San Francisco Bay sweeping the length of the house. The polished concrete floors help to bounce around the light from the floor-to-ceiling windows and give it a shimmering quality that mimics the water below.
The house also feels connected to the site in more unexpected ways. In particular, this organic-shaped sculpted porthole in the papaya-colored concrete in the kitchen gives a view of SF that is striking and charming all at once.
I love the echo of the papaya in the high gloss cabinets in the bedrooms downstairs and their juxtaposition with the raw texture and color of the concrete walls. Cheng’s work is a reminder that modern design and concrete can be playful and inviting.
The Desert Minimalist
Location: 3256 E Valley Vista Ln, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253
List Price: $3,390,000
This home was designed by Chen + Suchart Studio, a husband and wife studio based in Phoenix which was recently named one of the 15 Young Firms to Watch by Architect Magazine. Thamarit Suchart and Patricia Szu-Ping Chen Suchart met while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design and have run their joint architecture firm for 18 years.
Part of what I love about this house is the unexpected contrast between the green and grey cinder block exterior and the utterly sleek black, white, and wood interior.
The space is not a basic rectangle; there are angles and blocks that create architectural interest without adding visual noise.
In my opinion, the best part of the home is this hulking chevron block of marble that carves out a kitchen area- none of which is connected to the exterior walls. Instead, the kitchen is created out of a series of different pantry-sized cabinets in a mixture of minimalist finishes set at an angle.
Overall, I love the way the architects play with space in the house. This bathroom has its oversized vanity essentially floating in the middle of the room, creating space between the large walk-in shower and the boulder-shaped tub.
This house creates a luxurious minimalist space that is as much of a stunning backdrop as the desert landscape it is incorporated into.
One of infamous architect I.M. Pei’s charming townhouses in Philadelphia is on the market and in need of a postmodern makeover: https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/247-Saint-Josephs-Way-Philadelphia-PA-19106/10195942_zpid/
This piece about the history of Asian-American architects in Los Angeles is one of the most comprehensive I’ve found: https://ericbrightwell.com/2016/05/10/early-asian-angeleno-architects/