28 October 2010

Details Count: James Pendleton's Window-Top Fireplace

The living room of Woodland, the Beverly Hills home of producer Robert Evans, with its curious window-set fireplace. Photograph by Jason Schmidt from The New York Times.

In The New York Times this week Pilar Viladas writes about a fascinating California house — and by fascinating I don't mean just because it is the longtime home of legendary rake and movie producer Robert Evans. For me it's far more thrilling that the house at 1032 Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills was designed in 1942 by architect James Wolff for an interior decorator nobody but nobody remembers now, James B. Pendleton (né James Archibald Blakely, 1904 — 1995). A mentor of one of America's great modern-minded designers, Mel Dwork, the Oregon-born Pendleton worked in New York City in the early part of his career and was a great pal of Ruby Ross Wood's before he sought and found fame and fortune in Hollywood, as well as a wealthy wife, Mary Frances (1896 — 1963).

Called Woodlands and wreathed in vines, it is a magical structure well worth coveting, where Hollywood Regency meets François Mansart. It's also on one level, an architecture decision with a practical purpose; a deformed hip made climbing stairs difficult for Pendleton's wife. But what's always struck me as especially chic is the living room fireplace set in front of a window. If memory serves, the smoke is channeled up the sides, an engineering trick that leaves a framed garden view instead of a standard wall. Jayne Wrightsman had one of those window-topped fireplaces at her house in Palm Beach, as I recall, and I know I've seen one in an early-nineteenth-century house in France, built during the reign of Napoléon I.

I do hope somebody's working on a book about John Woolf and the houses he built for so many celebrities. There's a perfect spot on my bookshelf for it.

A pool party at Woodland in 1960, when it was the home of Mary Frances and James Pendleton. The photograph is a classic by Slim Aaron.


Quatorze said...

A lovely interior and lovely grounds. It is a touch weird at the roofline, but no matter; a house to recall an era when bigger wasn't necessarily better - style and attention to detail was what mattered and made for gracious, rather than merely aggrandized, living.

Miss Whistle said...

I should like to know exactly how to construct a window-top fireplace in my house. Dazzingly brilliant for California.

Miss W x

jones said...

Beautiful living room. But that pool party is truly a snap shot of a lost era: coat and tie for a pool party!! How things have changed.

Room Temperature said...

That window-topped fireplace is cool, that's for sure. It seems like I also remember one by that trickster Edwin Lutyens, and there used to be one in a Queen Anne house in Peoria, till it got torn down for a cell phone store. You can never have too many of them.

And I don't have the book at hand to check whose work it is, but the 1947 edition of House & Gardens' Complete Guide to Decorating has a painting of a fireplace set smack in the middle of a gigantic plate glass window. Wherever they appeared, they definitely made an impression.

magnus said...

I own a wonderful book on the smaller houses of Versaille in which the floor plans of Elsie De Wolfe's Villa Trianon are printed. They indicate that the Villa Trianon also had a window over the fireplace in one of the rooms. The mechanics of this have always puzzled me, and I think that you're correct- the flue must have been run up the side.

A dear friend's parents own a house in Florida designed by Hugh Newel Jacobson. It's crowning glory is a drawing room, three walls of which are huge sheets of glass. It's glorious, and my fantasy is to recreate the room in the Hollywood Hills, on a site with those incomparble views to downtown Los Angeles and out to the Pacific. The only change I would make is to incorporate a fireplace. Thanks for showing us how Pendleton did it.

Anonymous said...

Dear AL, I do so love such architectural devices as windows above fireplaces.
At Bay House in Gosport, on the South coast of England, there is such a fireplace in a room on the ground floor. The house was built originally for the sea-faring Baring family but is now a school. As you say, such fireplaces work as the flues are built into the walls on either side of the fireplace to remove fumes etc.

Toby Worthington said...

John Woolf's work is discussed at some length in
Emily Eerdman's book Regency Redux. By the way,
Sir John Soane~no slouch, he~ introduced windows over fireplaces in one of his later public works, the Freemason's Hall c 1828.
In fact there were 4 chimney pieces in one room, each
of them having a window above.

Boy Fenwick said...

And see the new Peter Pennoyer book for a round window above fireplace. Reggie vividly recalls a window above a fireplace in the Mark Twain house in Hartford.

The Down East Dilettante said...

And let's not forget Mark Twain's florid Eastlake house in Hartford, where there is a window over fireplace...but I'll take Mr. Woolf's version thank you---and also await the book. Maybe you should write it?

The Down East Dilettante said...

and suddenly, out of the blue, I remember a stone tower, rather castle-ish at the edge of a precipice, in the corner of Beatrix Farrand-designed gardens, in the ruins of the burned out estate of JP Morgan's son-in-law at Bar Harbor. It was used as a teahouse, round, with domed ceiling, rough stone interior walls, and a single sheet of plate glass over the fireplace, giving a view of the islands of Frenchman's Bay below...

Unknown said...

Every time I read your posts I learn something new! Thank you for your thorough explanations and connecting of all the dots. Always so inspiring for more reading and exploring!
I adore this fire place setting!
PS: Maybe you should write this book!

The Comet said...

Love the Slim Aarons pic! So beautiful!

And love your blog!

Check out my new blog: www.stuffwaspslike.com

xxxo H

Topaz said...

I've actually seen this phenomenon in some tract homes in California recently. Of course, the FPs were of the modular gas insert variety, instead of natural woodburning, but they did have windows above the hearth.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Topaz, How did they look?

Karena said...

That fireplace is wonderful and I can think of many ways to incorporate one. Fascinating home and grounds.

Art by Karena

Sitting In A Tree Kissing said...

Wow! That pool . . . totally amazing.

Unknown said...

I love the Slim Aarons pic. As usual informative and and wonderful post. Also, I think at one time after living in this house for years, Evans sold it and
then bought it again. Don't quote me on my facts. There was an interview/article about his love for the house (?) in NYT. Sorry about vague facts. Glad you continue to post.
Best wishes,

flock of tea cosy said...

Ha! Haven't heard "rake" used in a while, well done. Gorgeous house too.

Topaz said...

Aesthete, mixed results on the tract houses. My pet peeve is a million dollar home with a gas insert instead of a woodburning fireplace, anyway.

Barbara is correct. Evans had to sell the house due to financial difficulties but he was able to re-purchase it when his fortunes changed some time later. I think the house was also damaged by fire at some point, too.

Renée Finberg said...

i think that the fireplace set in the center of the windows is fabulous.

it is done like that in florida too.

happy T Day.