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Stairway to book heaven: An architect’s home (1981)

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The light at the top of the stairs is the culmination of a dramatic 31-foot-long flight of steps in the Southern California residence of the architect Charles Moore, who designed the apartment complex from which this unusual space is carved. The library/living room is dominated by a wall of books framed by a Victorian dormer arch. 

Amazing spaces

Without question, architect Charles Moore’s new space for himself is one of the most unusual he’s ever created. The Southern California building it is housed in is rather non-descript: dun-colored stucco of no particular design excitement. Thus the surprise that waits behind the front door is all the more astounding.

As one turns left in the cramped entry vestibule, one is thunderstruck by the looming presence of a monumental staircase.

One’s eye races to the top of the steps, where it stops before an over-scaled arch, which gives this daring space its special impact. This is like something out of the prints of Piranesi — or “Piranesi gone wrong,” as Moore wryly describes his own playful handling of architectural elements, exaggerated scale, and forced perspectives in the style of that 18th-century architectural fantast.

A wall of books

The real space of the place is in the steep avalanche of steps. At the top of the stairs, there is indeed a room: a library/living room “roost” (to use the architect’s own term) is dominated by a vast wall of books, framed by a Victorian dormer arch.

At close range, the arch gives the room the feeling of a proscenium stage — an appropriate image for the home of an architect who has consciously designed spaces to give them the magical feeling of stage sets.

That theatrical feeling leads one to think of this apartment in terms of a movie, too. Imagine a hilarious Mel Books take-off on a Hollywood gladiator epic, in which the opening credits, accompanied by portentous trumpet fanfares, go on and on and on, until one realizes that the credits are the whole movie. That would be the cinematic parallel of the Moore apartment.

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