The 'Life' House - Page 4

Eichler meets revered architect Pietro Belluschi—and builds a multi-level showpiece for Life magazine

Even though Eichler had made it clear in earlier correspondence with Belluschi that single-story designs were more in line with his production plan and land acquisitions, he nonetheless was proud enough of the original 'Life' house, and had worked out enough of the snags the first time around, to take on the custom build for McDonough. "As far as I could see," said McDonough, "he embraced the idea with some enthusiasm. In fact, he always seemed approachable, cooperative, and anxious to please."

McDonough and his family were indeed pleased when Eichler's 'Life' house re-creation, built for close to the same $25,000 price, was completed near the end of 1959. Architects Jones and Emmons, who had assisted Belluschi with modifications to the original house, made two significant changes for Eichler this time. The 'Life' house's unusual network of roof support beams that fanned out along the ceiling had been replaced by Eichler's trademark front-to-rear parallel beam system; and the carport, here replaced by a garage, had been position shifted to a different location.

"Eichler did a beautiful job of building the house, and of course the soaring roof was outstanding," McDonough pointed out. "Those were great and heady days when we were doing that. I wouldn't want to build two houses, though it was fun building that one."

Within four years, the McDonoughs, finding it difficult to raise a family with so many stairs and heights, reluctantly decided to move away. Their successors, the Kallmans, purchased the house for $46,000 in 1963 and have made it their home ever since.

kallman todayNearly 40 years have passed, and the home has aged, yet Robert and Ingrid Kallman have faithfully maintained the house throughout that time in pristine, exceptional condition, and with only minor modification. The Philippine mahogany walls remain unblemished and vibrant; and the tiny kitchen, almost impractical by today's standards, is still intact, functional, and a curious throwback to another era.

"The only modification I made in the past 40 years," admitted Robert Kallman, a now-retired professor of Stanford's department of radiation oncology, who started at the university in 1956, "was to turn the laundry room downstairs into an extra bedroom, and install a shower in its bathroom. We didn't see any need for anything else."

Inside and out, the Belluschi-Eichler house at Stanford commands a great presence and draws feelings from deep inside. Standing in the midst of its living-dining area, one can not help but be affected by the breathtaking wall of glass and the uplifting lines of the ceiling that reach skyward. "I like its free openness, the whole feeling of the place," Kallman expressed recently. "It's just a 'wonderful feeling' house." He and Ingrid are especially fond of the flower-filled patio—a feature not found in the San Mateo house—that Eichler created over the garage, adjoining to the dining room and kitchen.

Even though the home's great architect, the late Pietro Belluschi, never actually set foot inside Eichler's Stanford re-creation, it is certain that he would have agreed with Kallman and felt satisfied with the results—today a majestic hideaway sheltered by towering pine and eucalyptus trees on the tranquil cul de sac of San Rafael Place.

The 'Life' house design represented only one small piece of Belluschi's 'Life'time of great accomplishments—among other achievements, he was part of the architectural team responsible for the design of St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco—but it nonetheless moved him enough to put some strong feelings into words.

"The house is compact and economical, still elegant in its simplicity," he wrote, having just completed the original design. "The advantage, especially the feeling of space of the interior, the gracious contact with ground and the exploitation of the spectacular view, are in my opinion most compelling."

About Belluschi Author Meredith Clausen

Contributing writer Meredith Clausen, Ph.D. is perhaps the leading authority on the subject of architect Pietro Belluschi, having written two books on the architect and his works and conducted countless hours of personal interviews up to his death, in 1994, at age 95.

clausen and belluschi

Clausen and Belluschi, 1988.

"It was an exceptional experience," she recalls, "as architects such as he are rare. He was a superb designer, with a keen, well-honed, educated eye. And an eloquent writer and speaker, as well as gentle in demeanor and generous of spirit."