The Cutting Edge
Vidal Sassoon’s reinvigorate an iconic Richard Neutra house.
The relationship between hair and architecture has perhaps not been properly appreciated. But a visit with legendary stylist Vidal Sassoon and his wife, Ronnie, rectifies that.
“My whole work, beginning in the late 1950s, came from the Bauhaus,” explains Vidal, whose geometric, easy-maintenance cuts sparked a revolution in hair. “It was all about studying the bone structure of the face, to bring out the character. I hated the prettiness that was in fashion at that time.
My whole work, beginning in the late 1950s, came from the Bauhaus, says Sassoon.
“Architects have always been my heroes,” he adds. “I could not have been more honored than when I met Marcel Breuer and he told me he knew my work. And Rem Koolhaas said he had one of my original cutting books in his library.”
Fittingly, this conversation is taking place inside the couple’s Los Angeles home, a seminal work by modernist master Richard Neutra, which they recently restored. Known as the Singleton House, it was commissioned in the mid-’50s by industrialist Henry Singleton for a site on a spectacular peak atop Mulholland Drive. Views from the property take in the Pacific and the shiny skyscrapers of downtown, as well as the desert and San Gabriel Mountains.
When Ronnie, like her husband a passionate architecture buff, first saw the house it was in dire shape, though the Singleton family had done their best to maintain it. After relocating in 1969, they had rented it to a series of tenants, then put it on the market in 2002, three years after Henry’s death. The 4,700-square-foot house languished unoccupied—its systems too rudimentary (there was no air-conditioning, just Neutra’s ingeniously designed cross-ventilating windows) and its bedrooms too small and dark for contemporary families—until the Sassoons purchased the sleeping beauty. They were living between London and Beverly Hills at the time and bought the home as an adventure, one they weren’t completely sure would be positive. Indeed, just two weeks after the closing, in 2004, part of the roof collapsed, and a few months later a huge chunk of the property slid into a neighbor’s yard. But Cincinnati-born Ronnie, who had worked as a fashion designer and an advertising executive before she married Vidal almost 20 years ago, was committed to the project and immersed herself in a study of Neutra’s work. She pored over images of the Singleton House taken by Julius Shulman (1910–2009), the preeminent architectural photographer of Los Angeles. “They were my bible,” she says.
Little did she know how much she’d need the visual documentation. The Sassoons discovered that, due to dry rot and modern code requirements, they would have to do extensive rebuilding. Working with contractor Scott Werker of GW Associates of L.A., they replaced damaged ceilings and poured new terrazzo floors, and they removed a number of walls in order to create larger, brighter interior spaces.