Julia Child’s Childhood Home Re-imagined For a Modern Family

On a tree-lined avenue in the Madison Heights neighborhood of Pasadena rests a four-bedroom abode anchored by a great deal of local history. Originally built in 1911 by architect Reginald D. Johnson, the 5,070-square-foot Beaux Arts–style home is where the legendary Julia Child grew up, and—as rumor has it—where a gaggle of bohemian Cal Tech students communally lived in the ’60s and ’70s. The current owner, who purchased it as a family home in 1996, tapped her brother, L.A. architect Warren Techentin, for a head-to-toe renovation a few years ago. To return the façade to its original splendor, Techentin’s team carefully preserved the face of the house while transforming the back into a modern interpretation of the front, with glass elements to help facilitate indoor-outdoor living and solar panels on the roof. “This project shows my interest in ‘collapsing history’ into design,” Techentin says. “…To look at all voices from all epochs for inspiration and conversation.”

Warren Techentin Architecture consulted archival photos of the property to reconstruct some of the woodwork of the exterior and create custom moldings.

The double-height great room—which features a Beaux Arts–inspired decorative ceiling designed by Techentin and CNC-milled by MachineHistories—is balanced with a bespoke chandelier created by Pasadena-native artist/designer David Wiseman. The bronze branches are cast from Southern California oaks, which Wiseman culled from Pasadena and Elysian Park, while the handmade porcelain leaves evoke Southern magnolias. “There’s a kind of tension between the mass and physicality of the bronze installation versus the soft, delicate ceiling,” Wiseman reflects. “You feel sort of protected by the bowers.”

The sun-soaked kitchen, designed by Pasadena-based Charmean Neithart Interiors, features a vintage Wedgewood stove from the 1950s, cork flooring, Shaker-style cabinetry, and a painted beadboard ceiling. The counters are black Caesarstone, and the backsplash is Carrara marble.

“The hardest decision—and we all discussed it many times—was whether or not to move the kitchen that Julia Child grew up with,” says Techentin. “Obviously, that was a big part of the house…Then, we learned that her love of cooking did not actually happen until much later, [in her 30s]. Knowing that she did not actually learn to cook in this house helped us all feel fine about moving and expanding the kitchen.”

In the basement, located directly beneath the great room, a cellar houses a wine library of approximately 600 bottles. The two portraits by artist Steve Keene—a serial painter known for his mass-produced works by hand—depict both Harrison presidents, who are distant relatives of the owners.

Techentin built out the back of the house “to maximize the interaction of the inside with the outside,” he says. A pair of fireplaces were added to the western side of the home, adding to the two existing fireplaces that flank the ends of the property.

An Artek Aalto x Missoni armchair sits beside a custom balustrade that was CNC-milled from high-density foam on steel rods. “This detail was perhaps the synthesis of the blend of old and new,” says Techentin. Inspired by the Italian artist Renato Giuseppe Bertelli’s wooden profile sculptures of Mussolini, “we got the profile of each of the family members and ran them through an algorithm which not only spun them in the manner of a balustrade, but allowed the profiles of each to spiral up, adding an interesting ascendant quality,” he explains.

Photography by Eric Staudenmaier

Warren Techentin, wtarch.com

David Wiseman, dwiseman.com

Charmean Neithart Interiors, charmean-neithart-interiors.com

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