Sheats Goldstein Residence

Jackie Treehorn

The Sheats Goldstein Residence is a house designed and built between 1961 and 1963 by American architect John Lautner in Beverly Crest, Los Angeles, just a short distance from the Beverly Hills border. The building was conceived from the inside out and built into the sandstone ledge of the hillside; a cave-like dwelling that opens to embrace nature and view.

The house is an example of ‘American Organic Architecture’ that derives its form as an extension of the natural environment and of the individual for whom it was built. Lautner, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, sought to create unique structures that solved the challenges of their sites.

The home was originally built for Helen and Paul Sheats and their three children. Helen, an artist, and Paul, a university professor, had previously commissioned Lautner for the 1948-1949 Sheats Apartments project located in Westwood adjacent to UCLA.

There were two subsequent owners before a businessman, James Goldstein, purchased the residence in 1972, in a state of some disrepair. No walls existed in the living room, and a device meant to heat the house often didn’t work well. Goldstein commissioned Lautner to work on the transformation of the house; a series of remodelings that would encompass the entire house over a period of more than two decades. Goldstein worked with Lautner until the architect’s death in 1994 on what they called ‘perfecting’ the house.

The Sheats Goldstein Residence is one of the best known examples of Lautner’s work; he designed not only the house, but the interiors, windows, lighting, rugs, furniture, and operable features. The house is extensively detailed, and the range of the architect’s work is visible through the different stages of the re-mastering. All of the furnishings enhance the house and are completely related so that the aesthetic of the forms is a function of the whole.

The original construction of the house is poured-in-place concrete, steel, and wood. The home was built with 5 bedrooms, 4.5 baths, and a living room that was originally completely open to the terrace, protected by only a curtain of forced air. The living room features open space that carries the interior into the outdoors blurring the line between the interior and exterior. The expansive coffered ceiling living room is pierced by drinking glass skylights in the coffers (750 skylights in all). The home uses cross ventilation for cooling; there is no air conditioning. The floors are radiant heated with copper pipes that also warm the pool. Exterior covered pathways lead to the guest bedrooms and the master bedroom, and outside features include a tennis court and night club.

Lautner opened these spaces because of the temperate climate that Southern California offers most of the year. Pool windows in the master bedroom were also an original feature that allowed Helen Sheats to watch her children as she worked in her studio below the pool.

The skyspace, also called ‘Above Horizon,’ is an art installation located on a steep slope below the residence. The skyspace was designed by light artist James Turrell. The project is built in the same construction materials as the home. Originally, James Goldstein conceived this art installation as a collaboration between Lautner and Turrell, but Lautner died before being able to work extensively on the project. Now finished, the room features two portals, made by a local aerospace engineer, which fold away using carbon fiber composite materials. The room also contains a built-in concrete lounge to enjoy the thousands of hidden LEDs that flood the room every evening for the sky and light show.

The home is featured in several films. In ‘The Big Lebowski’ it serves as the home of Jackie Treehorn, a wealthy pornographer and loan shark.

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