The Hunt House: Original Furniture from Craig Ellwood’s Malibu Beach House

It is a privilege to be given the opportunity to research and write about the original furniture from Craig Ellwood’s historic Hunt House in Malibu, CA.

The last time I came across a group of furniture that excited me this much, I self-published a book about it, Eames + Valastro: Design in the Life of an American Family. This collection is the perfect companion to that group.

In Eames + Valastro, I documented nine examples of Eames designs, which were acquired by a young couple with their wedding dowry. This couple, Sal and Gladys Valastro, lived with this furniture for 55 years, and that included moves to three different states and raising two young boys. In 55 years, the only thing that happened to the furniture was the knobs on one Eames Storage Unit had to be replaced, because after twenty years of two little boys pulling on the drawer knobs, they broke.

The Valastros were a middle class family. The Hunt House collection presents us with an upper class family’s beach house collection. The contrast, that such furniture can serve both those with a restricted budget and the affluent, shows the versatility of these designs.

Furthermore, like the Valastro material, the Hunt House material has its provenance, and then some. Also, in the Hunt House collection, there’s a real rarity.

Craig Ellwood's Hunt House, designed 1951, produced 1957, Herman Mille

 

Renowned architect Craig Ellwood selected all of the pieces for the interior, with the probable exception of the bed, which he seems to have designed himself. The owners of the home saved all of the original sales receipts, which is the Holy Grail for serious antique collectors. Without such, dating modern design is no better than guesswork. Some collectors like to imagine they can date a piece by looking at the markings or certain labels, but the fact is, the makers of these goods made them to order for particular customers. In many instances, the markings were the same for five to ten years, and labels can fall off. That we have this documentation is particularly important with Herman Miller designs, because such can in many ways be thought of as bespoke furniture. Each Herman Miller piece is made to order for a particular customer.

The record of this furniture in magazines gives us a valuable historic dating tool, especially with regard to the rarity I mentioned. In this collection there is an Eames table, the 473-T. In my three decades of study of these designs, I’ve only seen one other example in the secondary market.

Extremely Rare Coffee Table, Model 473-T, from Craig Ellwood's Hunt House, 1958, Herman MillerCharles Eames (American, 1907-1978) and Ray Kaiser Eames (American, 1912-1988)
Extremely Rare Coffee Table, Model 473-T, from Craig Ellwood’s Hunt House, 1958, Herman Miller
Micarta, wood, chromed steel
14 x 54 x 20 inches (35.6 x 137.2 x 50.8 cm)

That table was apparently first published anywhere in a picture of the Hunt House interior in the December 1958 issue of DOMUS (offered for sale in the Hunt House archive in this auction).

Here’s where historical paperwork really shows its importance. With that publication, we can ascribe a “design date” of 1958 to that table. At this time, I know of no earlier appearance. However, in researching that table for this article I discovered that it appears in three “Herman Miller Collection” catalogs, published in Europe by Herman Miller International, for only three years 1962, 1963, and 1964. In the 1964 catalog, they use the same Marvin Rand photograph of the Hunt House living room that was illustrated in DOMUS and other contemporary magazines.

It’s not surprising that there’s a discrepancy between the date of a design appearing and the date it appears in a furniture maker’s catalog. The Eames Office released designs when they were ready, and then it was up to their partner, in this case, Herman Miller, to decide when to feature it in a catalog. Catalog production was costly and in some years, no catalogs were produced, only pricelists. This isn’t the first instance that an Eames design’s original date of design precedes its appearance in a catalog. The Eames Storage Units made their public debut in Alexander Girard’s 1949 An Exhibition for Modern Living. The Eames Storage Unit brochure produced for distribution to architects and designers wasn’t published until 1951.

The 1958 appearance of this table in a magazine leaves open the possibility for speculation that this was at least one of the very first ones sold.

The Hunts worked closely with Craig Ellwood even after they occupied the house and had used this furniture for a while. After several years, the Eames Compact Sofa needed new upholstery (sun and sea air will do that) and Ellwood arranged to have Herman Miller reupholster it. There are a few other instances where the original manufacturer did original repairs.

Sofa Compact from Craig Ellwood's Hunt House, designed 1954, produced 1957, Herman Miller, reupholstered by Herman Miller 1967Charles Eames (American, 1907-1978) and Ray Kaiser Eames (American, 1912-1988)
Sofa Compact from Craig Ellwood’s Hunt House, designed 1954, produced 1957, Herman Miller, reupholstered by Herman Miller 1967
Chrome-plated and enameled steel, fabric
35 x 72 x 27-1/2 inches (88.9 x 182.9 x 69.9 cm)

Since 2006, I’ve consulted for The Eames Office, and one of my tasks is to answer questions from collectors. Of course, the most frequently asked question is, “How old is my chair?”

As much experience as I have had with historical mid-century designs, and I would say conservatively, I’ve had my hands on more than 2,000 examples, and have lived with more than 400, I don’t claim to be able to date things based solely on their appearance.

I answer such questions with more questions: What’s the provenance? Who was the original owner? Where and when did they buy it? Do you have the receipts? And I ask one more question: Is it complete, as to all of its original parts? In the case of the Valastro family, there were replaced parts, but there was also a story: that when, after twenty years, Mr. Valastro contacted Herman Miller, they were no longer making drawers with those knobs, so he bought replacement knobs in a hardware store. In the case of the Hunt House collection, when some repair or replacement was done, for the most part, the original manufacturer did it.

Thanks to the careful archiving by Elizabeth Hunt, the Hunt House collection enhances our understanding of the real history of every piece of design in the home. In addition, they bought and then preserved a rare Eames table, which enters the realm of published Eames design history for the first time, in this catalog.

Written by: Daniel Ostroff
Daniel Ostroff is a Los Angeles-based film producer and Eames expert.
Other pieces from the Hunt House Collection are available in our October Design Signature Auction.

 Pair of Coconut Lounge Chairs from Craig Ellwood's Hunt House, designed 1955, produced 1957, Herman MillerGeorge Nelson (American, 1908-1986)
Pair of Coconut Lounge Chairs from Craig Ellwood’s Hunt House, designed 1955, produced 1957, Herman Miller
Naugahyde, fiberglass, chromed and enameled steel
32 x 40-1/2 x 34 inches (81.3 x 102.9 x 86.4 cm)

 

 

Two Tray Tables from Craig Ellwood's Hunt House, designed 1948, produced 1958, Herman MillerGeorge Nelson (American, 1908-1986)
Two Tray Tables from Craig Ellwood’s Hunt House, designed 1948, produced 1958, Herman Miller
Molded plywood, chromed steel
19-1/4 x 15 x 15 inches (48.9 x 38.1 x 38.1 cm)

 

 

Eames Lounge Chair (670) and Ottoman (671) from Craig Ellwood's Hunt House, designed 1956, produced 1958, Herman MillerCharles Eames (American, 1907-1978) and Ray Kaiser Eames (American, 1912-1988)
Eames Lounge Chair (670) and Ottoman (671) from Craig Ellwood’s Hunt House, designed 1956, produced 1958, Herman Miller
Leather, walnut veneered plywood, aluminum, steel, reuphostered by Herman Miller 1967
32-1/4 x 32-3/4 x 31 inches (81.9 x 83.2 x 78.7 cm) (chair)

 

 

Six Wire Chairs from Craig Ellwood's Hunt House, designed 1951, produced 1957, Herman Miller, bases replaced by Herman Miller 1967Charles Eames (American, 1907-1978) and Ray Kaiser Eames (American, 1912-1988)
Six Wire Chairs from Craig Ellwood’s Hunt House, designed 1951, produced 1957, Herman Miller, bases replaced by Herman Miller 1967
Painted steel, plastic
32 x 18-3/4 x 19 inches (81.3 x 47.6 x 48.3 cm) (each)

 

 

Dining Table from Craig Ellwood's Hunt House, produced 1957, Herman MillerGeorge Nelson (American, 1908-1986)
Dining Table from Craig Ellwood’s Hunt House, produced 1957, Herman Miller
Laminate, steel
29-3/4 x 84 x 36 inches (75.6 x 213.4 x 91.4 cm)

 

Outdoor Chair and Two Tables from Craig Ellwood's Hunt House, produced 1958, Van Keppel-GreenHendrik Van Keppel (American, 1914-1988) and Taylor Green (American, 1914-1991)
Outdoor Chair and Two Tables from Craig Ellwood’s Hunt House, produced 1958, Van Keppel-Green
Painted wrought iron, pine
29 x 22-1/2 x 23 inches (73.7 x 57.2 x 58.4 cm) (chair)

 

 

Custom Headboard and Bed from Craig Ellwood's Hunt House, 1958Craig Ellwood (American, 1922-1992)
Custom Headboard and Bed from Craig Ellwood’s Hunt House, 1958
Oak, plywood, chromed steel
26-3/4 x 62-1/2 x 93-1/2 inches (67.9 x 158.8 x 237.5 cm)

 

 

Elizabeth Hunt's Archive for Craig Ellwood's Hunt House, circa 1957Elizabeth Hunt's Archive for Craig Ellwood's Hunt House, circa 1957 (2)Craig Ellwood (American, 1922-1992)
Elizabeth Hunt’s Archive for Craig Ellwood’s Hunt House, circa 1957
Including letters, notes, cyanotype and diazotype blueprints, plans, and specifications, invoices, photograph prints of the Hunt House by Marvin Rand, a drawing of the Hunt House, magazines, newspapper clippings, pamphlets and brochures, and other archival materials
23-3/8 x 37-1/2 inches (59.3 x 95.3 cm) (largest cyanotype blueprints)

 

Posted by Daniel Ostroff

Los Angeles-based film producer and Eames expert

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