Iconic Ellwood Stays Afloat

Restored home that appears to float above Brentwood hillside now has $3M price tag
Fridays on the Homefront
For a quarter century starting in 1951, Southern California modernist architect Craig Ellwood ran Craig Ellwood Design, producing some of the most striking modernist homes of the era, including his iconic 1958 Smith House (above),
which is now on the market for $3 million. Photos: courtesy deasy/penner
Fridays on the Homefront
Fridays on the Homefront
Vintage side view of the Smith House. Photo: Marvin Rand
Fridays on the Homefront
Craig Ellwood

A team of experts and intimates of renowned modernist architect Craig Ellwood teamed together recently and did everything short of holding a séance to keep what is possibly his most iconic creation afloat.

Now, its owner is hoping to get $3 million for this remarkable 'floating' structure.

"It's the first Craig Ellwood home built into a hill," said Barton Jahncke, an architectural researcher and design consultant who helped meticulously restore the Smith House (1958). Referring to Internet searches of the designer, he adds, "It's his most iconic house. Anytime you pull up Ellwood, that's the house that comes up."

Jahncke especially admires the brilliant cantilever design that affords this 2-bed, 2-bath a sensational, south-facing coastline view from its living room perched in the Crestwood Hills of Brentwood. (Unlike the Crestwood Hills home we wrote about earlier this month, the Smith House was not a part of the forward-looking Mutual Housing Association.)

Ellwood (1922-1992) was unusual in many respects among the mid-century modern greats. Like a few of them, he designed multiple houses in the Case Study House program sponsored by Arts and Architecture magazine, namely CSH #16, 17B, and 18. Unlike most, he held no degree or certification. (He also changed his name, from Jon Nelson Burke, and the longest of his four marriages was to a Hollywood actress.)

For a quarter century starting in 1951, the native Texan ran Craig Ellwood Design with a variety of licensed architects on staff, producing some of the most striking modernist homes of the era. Almost all were in Los Angeles County, although the Daphne House in Hillsborough was one of the largest.

"He was part of the landscape of this city. He made this city look a certain way," said Jahncke, who visited Cal Poly Pomona to pore over snapshots and slides of the house Ellwood built for its original owner, J. Chris Smith. That included construction shots by Ellwood himself and photos for prominent magazines by Marvin Rand that Jahncke says "in a lot of ways…started" architectural photography.