First public offering. The two-story 1948 home is a rare example of a Modernist house designed by Paul Revere Williams FAIA (1894 – 1980.) The three-bedroom, three-bathroom, 2,040 square-foot property is in a quiet neighborhood surrounded by period-piece revival homes in one of the City of Ontario’s oldest districts.
Williams is renowned for his ability to design in any historical style. He is usually lauded for the flawlessly proportioned villas he designed for Hollywood celebrities of the 1940s and ‘50s who expected as much glamour in their houses as on their movie sets. Designated a landmark in 2006, this house speaks that same Williams language of class and craftsmanship. Here, however, that language is rooted in a philosophy so profoundly antithetical to traditional historical styles that it is remarkable that Williams could command the idiom with such assurance. The dwelling was fine enough to be chosen for the cover of Forgotten Modern, California Houses 1940 – 1970, written by architectural historian Alan Hess.
The property is angled to permit a sweeping circular drive that punctuates the large carport perpendicular to the house. Except for long bands of clerestory windows, the south-facing façade is closed to the street; even the entrance is deeply recessed thus adding an additional layer of privacy and seclusion from the outside world. Formally, the architecture is expressed as a subtly animated composition of clean lines and rectilinear volumes that intersect, project, and recede. These geometries are reinforced by a simple palette of materials based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s approach of using natural materials and earthy colors and stains that speak to the surrounding gardens and brickwork. On the ground floor, Williams used a combination of smooth stucco and vertical board-and-batten wood, while on the second story Williams repeated the board-and-batten, it is flanked with a central grouping of tall angled wood fins. The pattern slices light and views inside.
By contrast to the façade, the interior opens up to a grand conversation with the San Bernardino Mountains. The living room, especially, seems to shake off its roof and walls with a slanted ceiling that rises up to meet an entire length of full-height window walls. The result is a room that is a lesson in the language of environmental psychology: it is both a “refuge” (seen in the lowered soffit, built-in Sam Maloof-designed sideboard, indirect lighting, warm wood paneling, and a brick fireplace) and “prospect,” (the broad bright views, openness, the sky.) Throughout the rest of the house, Williams’ usual graciousness is evident in the extra-wide staircase and abundant built-in cabinetry, some of which is just tall enough to define discreet spaces, thus permitting space to flow easily and “borrowed” light to spill over surfaces, just as the language of Modernism would have it.