Barbara Bestor

Words: Adam Johnston
Photos: Cristina Dunlap

Disclaimers are usually buried in the footnotes, obscured by asterisks or imprisoned within parentheses, italicized as if ready to leave the screen. They are only added reluctantly, concessions to ethics or legality. So here you are, from the beginning: Barbara Bestor designed my home. I live in Bestor’s vision.

Home is a quiet corner of Echo Park in the shadow of Dodger Stadium; where old clapboard cottages with views of a strange shining city below are eclipsed by vegetation and strollers share the sidewalks with shrines to gangland shootings; where dirt paths run along the cliffs of Interstate 5 and coyotes roam the early hours. In some places at some times it feels like the edge of the earth, all of three miles from City Hall. It is a city of competing visions.

LA is an open experiment, a city forever reinventing itself, playing itself, eating itself. It is a leviathan, and we drive against the current of its carnage every day. It keeps taking away homes and making new ones; the ghosts of gentrification and forgotten histories, million dollar teardowns, 99 cent stores and $5 coffee shops. Bestor came to Los Angeles years ago for the same reason people continue to come: this is where things are tried, built, and made. The dream making factory is both a destructive and creative force. And she is in the middle of it, building homes and workplaces for us nomads.

Bestor is one of those nomads. Since she’s been here she has moved her family from one Northeast LA house to another, bringing her crystallized, Californian vision of “bohemian modern” to each new project – bold, vibrant colors; natural, unadorned materials; flexible and surprising spaces; open interactions of indoors and outdoors. She takes a Julius Shulman black and white photograph and gives it color, adding real life vernacular – kids, dogs, the casual and messy everyday – to a midcentury master home. Hers is a vision for how we really live.

Vision is informed by where it is realized. Builders build, teachers teach, but architects do not architect; nor do they do architecture. They practice architecture, in the way you practice a sport or religion. It is the lifelong pursuit of an ideal, never perfected, or final, or even complete in a way. Cue cliché: Bestor’s vision, like life, like the city she calls home, is a work in progress, steps forward and back and aside. The project of life is never finished, until it is.

The project of life is never finished, until it is.

So these pictures show Bestor’s home as it was on a beautiful November day, as the sun was setting over the hills and basin of Los Angeles. The late afternoon light streams in through the wall of windows, illuminating the surfaces in living warmth. The dog ostentatiously chews on its bone, inviting your envy. Yes, notice the furnishings and finishes, the artworks and place settings, the glasses she’s wearing. But if you concentrate too long or hard on the details, the accessories, the accumulated things, you can forget the things that really do matter. Look at the way Bestor’s husband embraces her when she gets home. Home is home is home. It is a tautology worth remembering.