Gallery: CA Modern Home Tour: The Hidden Details of John Lautner’s Incr...

The site’s original boulders appear throughout the house. Here they poke through the glass in the master bathroom.
The site’s original boulders appear throughout the house. Here they poke through the glass in the master bathroom.

When interior designer Arthur Elrod first approached the architect John Lautner about building a new home on two recently purchased lots, Lautner answered that he would take on the task if, and only if, Elrod would let him excavate the site down by eight feet. Lautner‘s unexpected response set the stage for a totally unique and organic design for the Elrod House.

When the site was excavated, the bedrock which now punctuates the home was revealed. Rather than tearing away or leveling the natural rock formations, the architect integrated the rocks making them the primary feature of the home. Unlike other modern architects of his time, Lautner was bored by the rectilinear configurations of his peers, in this case incorporating two circles into the plan which would define the form and the circulation of the home. The design gives the Elrod House a unique “Jetsons-meet-the Flintstones” aesthetic, which, while rooted in the 1960’s, feels very modern– even by today’s architectural standards.

While the UFO-esque shape of Lautner‘s Palm Springs masterpiece is indisputably the first thing to catch the eye, the design of the Elrod House is full of surprises and hidden innovative details which can only be appreciated by looking beyond the grand gestures of the concrete dome and boulders.

The living room pavilion of the Elrod Home was originally enclosed in glass, but desert storm winds blew out the glass-pane walls in 1971. Lautner said he knew the blowout was a possibility, but he decided to take the risk. After the windstorm shattered the glass, the pavilion was left as a completely open space. The owner liked the effect so much that instead of replacing the panes, he asked Lautner to open the pavilion by designing retractable glass doors. There are now two mechanized 25-foot doors fabricated by an aircraft manufacturer.

Like a hovering space-craft, the roof’s 60-foot concrete dome appears to “float” on a few small vertical steel columns, connected by clerestory windows positioned just above eye level. Lautner said he made a clay model of the house in the design process and thought of the roof as petals in a desert flower.

To authentically connect to the desert setting, Lautner decided to dig the house into the hill and build around excavated boulders. Lautner was experienced in desert building from his work with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, and the idea to unearth the site came to him as he studied the already graded lot. In 1958 he convinced his client to spend an extra $15,000 to $20,000 to excavate and he then reworked the plans to incorporate the boulders throughout the home.

Fred Flintstone, meet George Jetson. This boulder outcrop, which serves as a wall in the master bedroom, juxtaposes with the LCD screen.

Geologists had the boulders reinforced by drilling and bolting them together with 20–30-foot rods. “They used to drill (like this) for dynamite,” Lautner said. There are no visible signs of drilling, bolting or dynamiting.

Lautner poses the additional challenge of connecting the boulders to walls of glass. Note that the glass panes are only connected by a thin line of adhesive, most dramatically displayed in the corners to create a seamless blending with the outside.

The boulder-glass interplay is intricate and the type of detail worked carried out by Lautner and craftsmen in the field during construction.

The site’s original boulders appear throughout the house. Here they poke through the glass in the master bathroom.

In the guest house, Lautner’s faceted glass again connects only with adhesives, creating rounded glass shapes without distortion.

Camouflaged stairs add to the space’s organic and serene atmosphere. Above, Lautner stacks boulders to connect the main pavilion to the pool. The velvet rope discourages tourists from taking on the slightly tricky descent.

Like his beloved mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright, Lautner uses low ceilings for dramatic forced perspectives and big reveals. Above, a 6-foot-5-inch portal connects the board-formed concrete work of the master bedroom to the soaring pavilion. The pavilion’s 25-foot glass doors are monumentally weighty, countered balanced and motorized.

Lautner’s work appears in many Hollywood Films and the Elrod house is used as a primary set in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. In the film, Bambi and Thumper attack Bond (Sean Connery) with impressive acrobats in the pavilion, before throwing him into the pool.

While the Elrod House is probably best known as a symbol of Hollywood excess in that classic Bond movie, to simply view the house as an epitome of Space-Age-Bachelor-Pad is missing the point.

“Lautner’s fascination with new shapes and structures had nothing to do with Space Age futurism, or movieland glamour, or virtuoso engineering, but came from his determination to humanize the spaces of the built world and create an endlessly varied organic poetry. This was a profoundly serious agenda,” says Ann Philbin, the director of the Hammer Museum, in a foreword to the book on Lautner that accompanied a retrospective exhibition of his work.

+ The Elrod House (official website)

+ John Lautner (official website)

+ John Lautner (wikipedia)

Bob Brisco is an internet media pioneer and the Chief Executive Officer of Internet Brands, a highly successful Internet media company, attracting more than 110 million unique visitors per month. Prior to Internet Brands, Bob held the positions of president of Universal Studios Hollywood and CityWalk, and senior vice president at The Los Angeles Times where he oversaw all of The Times’ new media operations and directed the launch of In 2012, Bob received an Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 Greater Los Angeles Award from Ernst & Young. He is a long-time CA resident and humble admirer of great architecture.

You can follow Bob on his blog at:


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  1. Hi Andrea October 29, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Right now there is a related exhibit at the Mingei Museum in San Diego called Three on the Edge featuring the modern and innovative architecture of 3 locals: James Hubbell, Kenneth Kellogg and Wallace Cunningham. All three should also be mentioned and featured above.

  2. Hong Park March 23, 2013 at 6:54 am

    thank you… my eye is cool… !!

  3. Mike Chino March 21, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    That UFO-esque roof is crazy! I bet the pool creates a nice cool micro climate for the sheltered area underneath it. Definitely an inspiring example of modern architecture for desert climes.

  4. Alyssa Alimurung March 21, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    The house is amazing. I was fun to read that Lautner designed the roof to look like petals in a desert flower because it really does look like a UFO at first glance!

  5. JasminMC March 21, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    What an amazing home!

  6. Diane Pham March 19, 2013 at 10:24 am

    This is an incredible home. I hope to see it in person at some point in the near future!

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