By 1931, modernist architect Richard Neutra was 39. He had already traveled the world, trained with Frank Lloyd Wright, and relocated to Los Angeles. He had begun defining the distinctive California hill house aesthetic—his way of bringing the outside in—that would define the region.
But despite some early accolades, Neutra was still a young practitioner without much money.
At that time, Cees H. Van Der Leeuw, a son of a factory owner in Rotterdam, suggested that Neutra build his own house to showcase his point of view without client restrictions. When Neutra admitted to not having the budget, Van Der Leeuw asked how much it would take. Neutra said $3,500. He received a check to build his dream on the spot.
The “VDL Research House,” also known as the Neutra House, was completed before the end of 1932. It became Neutra’s home, where he’d raise his family, as well as his office and his architectural calling card. It was an illustration of his theory of biorealism, or the inherent connection between nature and human health. Biorealism argues that architecture needs to be an intermediary rather than a barrier to the outside world, and it’s a theory that has been more or less proven out in nearly a century of science since Neutra suggested it.
And now, the crown of the Neutra House can be yours—or at least the design can.
The house’s top story features a transparent glass penthouse that peeks above the tree line, and it’s now being released as a kit by the outdoor furniture and design firm Kettal, along with an open-air pavilion version. The penthouse’s design is completely authentic to the original, with minimal material updates along with the incorporation of solar power and air conditioning. It’s even being endorsed by Neutra’s son and collaborator, Dion Neutra. (If you want to go deep into the lore, know that Dion actually helped design the penthouse, since this addition was actually built after a fire occurred at the property in 1963.)
The most notable oddity in the penthouse’s prismatic design is a protruding pane of glass, set about 10 feet out from the core structure, for no readily apparently reason. It isn’t just a flourish of form, however. That outer glass creates a reflection with the inside glass, as a way of blocking the rooftops of neighbors so that the view is only trees. In other words, while Neutra wanted to bring the outside in, he didn’t want to invite the whole neighborhood along with the landscape.
Kettal did not respond to our questions on pricing, but suffice it to say you can expect to pay significantly more than $3,500 to re-create the original.