The Keys to Purchase and Restore Mid Century Real Estate in Los Angeles: Rachel Melvald in conversation with producer, designer and realtor Lynda Kahn of Twin Art and Compass Realty.

 Rachel Melvald: 

We are going to talk about real estate and mid-century modern homes from a designer who has had many different lives before even becoming a realtor.  How has this influenced your work in real estate?

Lynda Kahn:

I specialize in architecture and design. I’ll just give you a little bit of my background.

I have always loved modernist architecture since I was a child. My first adventures in design were probably just walking through the museum of modern art and the Guggenheim in New York, along with flipping through magazines: Life Magazine and Look Magazine excited at seeing the beautiful architecture. Architectural  photography was on display in these magazines, mostly mid-century houses, maybe Julius Shulman had shot them or some of the renown architecture photographers of the time. As a young girl I dreamed of living in one of these modernist houses. I remember other girls playing house, but I was drawing floor plans for my dream house.

Rachel Melvald:

Oh, I love that. I was one of those children that were. Always playing house and then wanting, I was obsessed with dollhouses and my Lego set because I just so badly wanted to be in one of these houses. So I appreciate that you are already projecting and designing what you wanted to be at that age.

Lynda Kahn:

My interest continued in design and architecture. I attended college for fine arts and majored in sculpture at Philadelphia College of Art, which is morphed into the University of the Arts. I was living across the street from Louis Kahn, no relation to myself but the same last name.

He was the most renowned architect of the time in the seventies. 

After I continued my studies in Chicago, which is known for it’s amazing architecture, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies Van Der Rohe. Weekends, I would tour the architecture and see these amazing houses. This all fed into my practice of sculpture, space and design.

Fast-forward to New York where we started an Art Band called Taste Test,: Lynda Kahn, Ellen Kahn, Joan Durand, David DeSario, Andy Blinx and Brooke Williams an extension of the Video Art. At the time I lived downtown in a loft in Soho on Broome Street near the Kitchen where our videos were shown.

Rachel Melvald:

Oh, you are just way cool. I love that. 

Lynda Kahn:

The next loft on Varick Street I shared with my identical twin Sister Ellen..The TwinArt Studio…We were always changing the loft and building rooms, tearing down rooms and experimenting with design in those four walls. I worked with production designers and created sets and projection on screens and different kinds of three-dimensional design for the commercials I was directing. 

Rachel Melvald:

Being in that time of the 80’s- Warhol, Soho, as you were even just studying, becoming your own artist.

Lynda Kahn:

Yes, I was a video artist and became the director. We created an Art brand Twin Art. Our video’s Double Date and Instant This Instant That were on MTV.

Rachel Melvald:

That was when I was growing up on MTV.  I would go to New York in the eighties and remember just being so blown away.It was like an art school explosion. 

Lynda Kahn:

Yes, it was a very vibrant community of artists and everybody shared resources. We collaborated on each other’s projects and it was a fantastic time to be in New York City. Working with video as an art medium was a new medium to be working with as a visual artist.

Moving into the architecture, I became bi-coastal and we’ve been working as Twin Art since the late seventies. We both have Emmys in Television for design.

Rachel Melvald:

Really being able to be on both coasts must have been very invigorating or keeping you grounded. On the one hand from you, you both are rooted in the city of New York and here as, as we see Los Angeles as this expansive, you know, frontier of creativity.

Fast forward to a Bi-coastal life in California.

When I moved here in the early nineties, there weren’t as many galleries and such a vibrant art scene. Now the art world has exploded in LA with all the major galleries in the Arts District.

Rachel Melvald:

So your sister, being twins and the two of you being able to be, bi-coastal be twins.

There’s so much binary here as a duo, right. And how even just informing your profession, moving more into architecture more specifically, working in real estate, how did the two of you really bounce ideas off of each other? How did you both keep in that creative impulse?

I imagine it’s very synergistic. 

Lynda:

Yes, it’s a tag team. We realized early on, it was not a good idea to be on set together and co-direct, because the talent would get really mixed up.

Rachel Melvald:

It’s true. Cause you’re identical

Lynda Kahn:

Two women directors that look the same! This was very confusing for the talent! The live action directing, we would split it up. One of us would be the director on set and one of us would be producing. The creative ideas in the beginning and the process, we were both always involved.

Rachel Melvald:

And I really appreciate that both of you and you’re pivoting to real estate, you have kept your artistic connection in how you view three-dimensional space or even how you work with design. You seem to be moving into learning more about mid-century modern and how you always had a passion and a love for it kind of went full circle in that way.

Lynda Kahn:

When I came out to California learning about the history and architecture of the left coast became a hobby. Enthusiastically, I would go on architecture tours to see the Neutra, Schindler and Case Study houses, when tours were offered by The Los Angeles Historical Society and Dwell.

I would take my hobby to a new level with Real Estate. I started looking for houses for myself to buy. And in the nineties, there were so many opportunities.This is not the case now.

Rachel Melvald:

What a different time, right? 

Lynda Kahn:

So in the nineties, there were many exquisite examples of Mid Century architecture for sale by Neutra, Schindler, Pierre Koenig, Craig Ellwood, A Quincy Jones, the Gregory Ain and on and on. I would look at all of them as they came on market, they all had one thing in common the need of extensive restoration and renovation.

I became really interested in LA contemporary modern architecture and was involved in the conversation. Finally, I moved into a townhouse on Willoughby designed by Lorcan O’Herlihy.

I was very happy there. The design was a piece of art. A spectacular use of space and very minimal. I love minimal art. It even had a bridge. It always reminded of Halston’s townhouse in NYC designed by Paul Rudolph.

When I lived there, I decided to get my real estate license. My father was very sick and I was taking care of him. I didn’t feel like I was able to take on the responsibility of my entertainment clients. So I studied and got the RE license (shelved it) and started working as a creative director for another company when my father’s health turned around for the better, I was back directing short films, but the conversation became Real Estate! The job took me into a Koenig Eisenberg building, my office view was the iconic CBS logo. The location, I chose for the film was a Neutra house on a lake.

Rachel Melvald:

What juxtaposition! 

The month after I completed the films, I was selling a Lloyd Wright house in the Hollywood Hills. 

Rachel Melvald: 

It’s such synergy just to be in both those worlds yet still working in these architectural gems. One is informing the other from a sales perspective, but you were balancing being creative. 

Lynda Kahn:

A lot of my clients are past entertainment clients, designers, directors, production designers and producers who also love design and architecture.

Rachel Melvald: 

It’s such an LA right of passage to own a Mid Century modern home?

Lynda Kahn:

My clients are interested in design and they trusted me and I had the knowledge to back it up. I would find them houses or list their houses.

Rachel Melvald:

So how do you work on that type of sale or what is, is the typical? 

Lynda Kahn:

I have a six step marketing plan when I am listing a house. When I work with buyers it is a little different. I treat each house as if I would be buying it for myself. I am not opposed to pointing out both the pros and cons of the property.

Some of clients are architects. They have an understanding of the process. If they have a passion for the house and they understand the restoration and renovation process. They go for it. Inspections and negotiations are key. As an agent you must be on top of this and understand the value.

Rachel Melvald:

And what are some careful considerations that you’ve had to look out for when purchasing Mid Century Modern real estate for your clients?

Lynda Kahn:

There was one house that I was in escrow on and it was a great house and it was mid century. It was in the Hills and Sherman Oaks and it had a beautiful pool and it was just great. The inspectors go through it and then they bring to my attention. They discovered dry rot through the center beam going through the house.

On this particular house you would need to take off the ceiling, the roof, and then you would need to replace all the windows. And there’s always going to be more, then you first see, once you take down a wall.

Rachel Melvald:

What is the supply of Mid Century modern homes in LA?

Especially now it s hard to find mid century architectural houses that have already been restored, they’re in demand. They weren’t in demand 25-30 years ago like they are now.

So now there’s a premium on them as far as price to have architecture, by a name architect.

Rachel Melvald:

Okay. Good to know. The panache, so to speak.

Lynda Kahn:

The buyers in the 21st century are much more sophisticated in their design knowledge with so many books and lifestyle websites. There is much more interest in design in general.

PART 2-Modernism Blog

How does one get more involved in learning about Mid Century modern architectural homes?

Well, that’s very easy. Tickets just went on sale today for Modernism Week in Palm Springs so you can checkout their website. There are numerous house tours in Palm Springs, but also they have lectures which AIA sponsors everyday at the museum, it goes for two weeks and it’s February, I think, 17th to the 27th.

That’s a great way to really immerse yourself in some big architect names, especially in Palm Springs. And it’s a great getaway. I have signed up for home tours plus Barbara Bester’s lecture on the Silver Top house restoration originally designed by John Lautner.

Rachel Melvald:

Oh, fantastic!

Lynda Kahn:

Ronnie Sassoon: a lecture showing her three houses, one of them is a Marcel Breuer in Connecticut, a Neutra in Los Angeles, plus her New York loft and she also will show her extensive art collection.

The Charles Phoenix bus tour is a must, it’s a double-decker bus which is fun and very informative of the Mid Century history of Palm Springs.

There are tours of Little Tuscany, Palmer Krisel Twin Palms , etc.

For Modernism hotels book up fast, especially in Palm Springs, so start planning.

Rachel Melvald:

So it’s really fun and very educational. Yeah, and kind of going back in time, but again, being, you know, on the cusp of the future. And I think that’s a really great sneak preview and to give us some of your favorites, which I didn’t know about, I think that’s going to be really helpful for our viewers to start planning.

Photo credit by Ellen Kahn