The Kaufmann House: The Restoration Story of an Architectural Landmark.

The Kaufman House

The Kaufmann House which is also known as the Kaufmann Desert house was designed by architect Richard Neutra in 1946. The home is located in Palm Springs, California and is regarded as most architecturally noteworthy projects of Richard Neutra and famous landmark in American Mid Century Architecture. I find this home to be a true gem of international modernist architecture and the real estate market must agree as in 2008 this property sold for 12.95 million dollars.

The House’s History

Built in 1946, the house was commissioned by a German-American Jewish businessman Sr, Edgard J. Kaufmann who owned a number of department stores in Pittsburgh. The house was going to serve Kauffmann during the cold winters of Pennsylvania he stated. However, the house became famous in 1947 because of a series of photographs captured by Julius Shulman, an American architectural photographer.

Photograph by Julius Shulman

In 1955, Kaufmann died and the house stayed uninhabited for several years before having been owned by a range of owners, notably singer Barry Manilo and San Diego Chargers owner Eugene V Klien, who did a series of renovations and additions to the House which affected its original design. A media room was created, flower wallpaper was glued to the bedroom walls, the patio was enclosed, a wall was taken down, and finally, the roof lines were altered due to the installment of air conditioning units. All these additions and changes transformed the house from its original 1946 design to a mediocre cocktail of add-ons.

The Kaufman House Restoration

Brent Harris and Beth Edwards Harris, AKA the Harris couple, purchased the house for $1.5 million. However, Beth Edwards Harris is an Architectural Historian and makes it her mission to restore the house to its original design. The problem is that the original architect Richard Neutra died in 1970 and the couple bought the property in 1992. The Harrises had to bring in L.A. Architects Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner to give the house its original design back.

Photograph by James Vaughan, 1946

Together they searched and looked through Neutra archives at UCLA and found more documents at Columbia University and even contacted the photographer that originally made the house famous Julius Shulman for never printed images of the house’s interiors. The couple was also able to obtain materials from the original suppliers of paint and fixtures; they even purchased a metal-crimping machine to reproduce the original structure that lined the roof. However what I find to be the craziest is that the couple went as far as reopening a long-closed rock mine in Utah to mine out the same rock used to build parts of the original house.

The Kaufmann House Today

Although the Harrises put a tremendous amount of effort into restoring the Kaufmann house, they divorced and sold the house for US$15 million at a Christie’s auction. However, the sale later fell through, as the bidder breached terms of the purchase agreement. In October 2008, it was listed for sale at US$12.95 million.

Photograph by Julius Shulman

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