When Justin Krzyston of Los Angeles–based Stonehurst Construction took on the renovation of Lloyd Wright's (architect son of Frank Lloyd Wright ) Samuel-Novarro House, the stakes were especially high. "This was one of the most challenging projects I have worked on due to its being a historic cultural monument and to the old age of many of the original finishes and fixtures," says Krzyston. Commissioned in 1928 by Ben Hur star Ramón Novarro for his secretary Louis Samuel, the 2,700-square-foot, four-level home includes a pergola, a music room, a swimming pool, and multilevel terraces.
The home was completed in 1928 by actor Ramón Novarro for his secretary, Louis Samuel.
After Novarro learned that Samuel had been embezzling funds to pay off the home, the actor took ownership of it and lived there through the 1930s. The house has seen its fair share of star inhabitants since then: Both Christina Ricci and Diane Keaton have owned the property. In the fall of 2008, Krzyston was hired to restore the home after years of neglect. Built into the hilly landscape—and given its copper accents and multiple floors and terraces—the house proved a renovating challenge. "The exterior copper was one of the most difficult things to maintain," says Krzyston. "Additionally, the large retaining wall that held up the iconic pool was cracking and failing, and I had to reinforce the wall and make sure the pool did not end up down the hill on the street!"
Novarro in the home's pool circa 1934.
Further damage became apparent as work continued. "I uncovered hidden in the walls the original gutters, which were still bringing water from the exterior into the walls and down to the street," Krzyston says. "Over time these gutters began to crack and fall apart, which lead to horrific water damage hidden behind the drywall and plaster."
The house is surrounded by lush gardens.
Luckily, Krzyston could seek help from one trusted source. "I was able to meet with Diane Keaton—who lived here in the early '90s and did one of the first renovations—and she gave me some great advice on how to approach the restoration 20 years later," he says. "She told me to go slow, don't treat it like any other renovation, and don’t change any more than you have to; keep the integrity of the house and the way Wright intended it to be." Judging by the meticulous renovations, it seems Krzyston did just that.
The home's interior post-renovation.