The House that Love Built

New book details siblings' true-to-life tales of growing up in world-famous Stahl House
Fridays on the Homefront
It's one of the most celebrated mid-century modern homes ever built—and now the centerpiece for a new book full of memories. It's the Stahl House of Los Angeles. Photo: Bruce Stahl (Stahl family archive)

Ever wonder what it would be like as an ordinary kid growing up in one of the most extraordinary mid-century modern homes ever built?

Ask Shari Stahl-Gronwald, and she'll open up her heart about her years being raised in the now-famous Stahl House of Los Angeles. That's the one designed by architect Pierre Koenig as Case Study House #22, and then immortalized by photographer Julius Shulman with that unforgettable iconic nighttime shot overlooking the City.

Recently, Shari opened up to us in a big way with the release of The Stahl House: the Making of a Modernist Icon, a new book (Chronicle Chroma - 192 pages) she authored with her brother, Bruce, and journalist Kim Cross.

"Bruce and I have been wanting to do this book for a long time," Shari says. "I wanted a storyteller to write it…and Kim Cross dives deep, she gets into it with her heart and soul. I'm so glad we found her."

  Fridays on the Homefront
Stahl family's new book: We've been "wanting to do this for a long time," says co-author Shari Stahl-Gronwald. Photo: Julius Shulman (© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute - Los Angeles (2004.R.10)
 

It was that 1960 photo of the Stahl House, arguably the most celebrated image of mid-century modern Los Angeles ever photographed, in which Shulman captured a scene of such perfection that it helped catapult the Stahl House to international star status.

But the home's story actually begins six years before that, in 1954, when Shari's parents, newlyweds Buck and Carlotta Stahl, fell in love with an eagle's nest lot in the hills overlooking L.A.

"That lot became an obsession for my parents," Shari recalls. "One day, while standing there, admiring the lot, they heard a car drive up.

"It was George Beha, who owned the lot and the one right below it. He tried to sell my parents both lots, but since they couldn't afford both, my dad bought the Stahl House lot for $100 and a handshake—that was the actual price! My parents were ecstatic, buying the lot they'd been eyeing and dreaming about!"

Fridays on the Homefront
Inside the Stahl House kitchen, circa 1960. Photo: Julius Shulman (© J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute - Los Angeles (2004.R.10)

Finding the right architect to design the Stahls' dream home was not an easy task, however.

"Architects came and went," says Shari. "My dad built a house model on a card table—out of paper mache, clay, aluminum, and cans for the structure—depicting exactly how he wanted the house to look."

But even though Buck used the model to explain to architects what he wanted, he was turned down over and over.

  Fridays on the Homefront
Shari and brother Bruce today. Photo courtesy Eric Bricker