September 5, 2014

[Interview] Q & A with Musician and Design Blogger Moby

  • By: Meghan Drueding

The dramatic exterior of Moby’s restored 1920s French Norman-style house in Los Angeles. Credit Moby
The dramatic exterior of Moby’s restored 1920s French Norman-style house in Los Angeles

In our conversation with Moby for the upcoming Fall 2014 issue of Preservation magazine, he had so many interesting things to say that we didn’t have room for the whole interview in print. Read on for an extended version of our talk with the multitalented electronic musician and DJ, whose writings and photographs of local buildings are showcased on his blog Moby Los Angeles Architecture. An avid architecture and preservation buff, Moby has also shared with us some photos of his restored 1920s house in Los Angeles, which you can see below.

How did you get interested in architecture in the first place?

I think to a large extent it started when I was growing up in Connecticut. We were very poor in a very wealthy town. My mom and I lived in a garage apartment and my friends lived in big beautiful estates. So at an early age I was aware of different environments that my friends were living in and started to think about what were the components that made these houses so different.

What are some of your favorite architectural styles?

I like everything! I love the playfulness of a lot of Midcentury Modern buildings, especially in L.A. Growing up in Connecticut and living in New York City, I just loved the style but was frustrated at how it never made sense there. Six months out of the year, glass walls become like the walls of a refrigerator. Moving to Southern California, suddenly Midcentury Modern architecture made sense.

A view of the house from the cobblestone driveway. Credit Moby
A view of the house from the cobblestone driveway

What do you think are the particular challenges for preservation in Los Angeles?

In New York City, when Penn Station was torn down, it was in the middle of the city and everyone saw it. You couldn’t not notice it. In L.A., most of the beautiful buildings that are torn down happen behind gates and walls.

I’ve only been here a few years, but I also feel like there was maybe a period in the 1970s and '80s when midcentury architecture was looked at with derision by people. People wanted 10,000-square-foot beige palaces. Now everybody in L.A. wants to live in a Neutra or Schindler or Lautner or Case Study.

Interior details such as moldings, light fixtures, and heating registers were restored or faithfully reproduced. Credit Moby
Interior details such as moldings, light fixtures, and heating registers were restored or faithfully reproduced.

Can you tell me about your French Norman-style home in L.A.?

It’s a 1920s house that was terribly treated the last 70 or 80 years. I worked with an architect, Tim Barber, and we did a lot of very modern things that brought it back to [the period]. It feels like a perfect house from the 1920s. Part of it was just the structural elements; the house was falling apart. We had to reinforce it with structural steel, which wouldn’t have been viable in the '20s.

The main house is part of the Hollywoodland development, which had three utterly arbitrary styles: British Cotswold (cute little country house); Spanish Colonial; and French Norman, with turrets and whatnot. My house has turrets and balconies. Sometimes it seems comical to me -- they were placed there arbitrarily. In true Hollywood fashion, the house itself was crumbling, but it had very expensive wallpaper!

My guesthouse was designed by John Lautner in 1960. It’s not like Lautner’s Chemosphere or Garcia residence, which are more formal. This is more of a quick-and-dirty Lautner. A lot of materials he used were easily found and sourced, easily available in 1960. Not surprisingly, some of those materials have aged really badly.

In doing the preservation of it, [we thought a lot about] how much do we reflect the specific form of the space versus the intention of the space. For example, there’s a spiral staircase leading up to the roof that’s wrapped in fiberglass. It was punctured and needed to be replaced. We could have sourced the same fiberglass, but we knew it was [just] a fun choice on his part. Instead we found a newer fiberglass that was interesting -- it was translucent. My architect and I were convinced Lautner would have loved it.

The 4-acre property serves as a bucolic escape in the middle of the city. Credit Moby
The 4-acre property serves as a bucolic escape in the middle of the city.

Your songs often layer elements from different musical periods. Do you think the same approach works for architecture?

Sometimes it’s nice to just have contextual cohesion. When you walk into a Midcentury Modern house and it’s filled with midcentury furniture, it’s cohesive. But then you have the Eames House, which is utterly not cohesive. And that’s where its power and charm come from.

If you take an old blues vocal and listen to it on blues guitar, it’s nice. But if you listen to it against something different, your perspective of it changes. One of my favorite design approaches is when you have the contrast of a beautiful Victorian or Georgian house with midcentury furniture -- Danish Modern and Eames chairs.

Meghan Drueding is the executive editor of Preservation magazine. She has a weakness for Midcentury Modernism, walkable cities, and coffee-table books about architecture and design. @mdrueding

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