“Everyone should experience strange beauty every day.”

– Bestor Architecture Office Manifesto

One of the first things you notice when walking into a Barbara Bestor designed space is the subtle whimsy and the sense of joy. Barbara Bestor, AIA is founding principal of Bestor Architecture and since 1995 has actively redefined Los Angeles architecture with projects such as Beats by Dre headquarters, Blackbirds small-lot housing development, and Intelligentsia Café.  She is author of Bohemian Modern, Living in Silver Lake and knows how to throw a mean dance party.

Momstamp co-founder, Julie Hermelin, caught up with Barbara to discuss how becoming a parent influenced her work, the work/life balance of divorce and how her vision of community shaped her most recent project.

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Portrait; Bestor Architecture

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LIVING IN COLOR

Before kids my work was more minimalistic.  I used to do these white conceptual boxes. After kids my work shifted.  Architecture very often has narrow issues that are what we call “discursively interesting.”  Having the two girls and my own practice gave me the freedom to pursue more of what I was interested in rather than following the officially rarefied path.  The dual freedom of having kids and divorce were a big part of it in terms of aesthetics.

I started to address the work/life balance issue and my creative work began to shift so that it viscerally appealed to the girls. I got much more into the use of color. The first house I did for myself and the girls, when they were one and three, was very colorful and heavily influenced by what a child’s idea of what a house might look like. That’s the house that got really popular, published and got me my  book project. I’d already been working for ten years, but that’s when I started building the branch of practice that I’ve been doing ever since.

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Bestor House, Echo Park; Bestor Architecture

MAINTAINING BALANCE

Before I got divorced, my schedule was always a very tricky because architects work a lot of hours typically. I would oscillate between how much time to take off vs. how much time to spend home. After I got divorced and we had joint custody, I could really balance my schedule. I could work 90 hours one week and 35 hours the other week and be home in time for dinner. I only had to do half which made it easier to maintain that balance and take turns working late. Court mandated division of labor worked to my advantage. I’m not advocating that, but it was interesting because technically that’s what I had in my married life, a gender equality situation, but in reality there’s this expectation.  It’s not even like you’re doing more work but even if both parents are home all the time you don’t take turns working late. Usually one person is supposed to be the one that’s at home.

EXPANDING CIRCLES

One of the many positives of being a parent is meeting other families on the playground. All the friends I made through having kids has greatly influenced and expanded my career. They’ve become long term friends, collaborators, and clients.

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Beats By Dre: Photo by Jasper Sanidad

VISUAL REPRESENTATIONS OF A MULTIFACETED LIFE

I’m interested in opening up living areas to each other so that you have this relaxed relationship and visual relationship between different parts of your life. Whether you’re playing outside or having a dinner party. With families you have more opportunities for different kinds of spaces that are connected, because kids have different needs than adults. Overall, you want to have a domestic urban landscape, where you have a central hub, like a kitchen and then different rooms that are like neighborhoods around it.

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Toro Canyon House: Photo by Laure Joliet

BLACKBIRDS: AN URBAN VILLAGE

Recently I designed a group of houses in Echo Park. We were able to create this sort of village situation and use the car to structure it. There’s a central courtyard around multiple houses and your real front door is where your parking is. In suburban detached houses the typical behavior is that people drive into their garage and walk in the house through their garage door, no one really ever uses the front door that much, which is kind of super anti-social, anti-community.

In this case we eliminated the garage as a structure and the front door is in this courtyard, which everybody else shares, so you have 18 people with doors on this courtyard. You have a lot more opportunity for neighborliness. I personally would’ve been psyched to live here especially when my kids were little or even now. If I had a couple other friends living there, we could sit on the stoop and talk while the kids played. Then at night you go back to your own house.  It’s like a privatized version of co-housing in terms of the visual and physical connection between people.

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Blackbirds; Photo by Laure Joliet

TOKYO INSPIRED LA

I’ve always been interested in the small lot proposition. I’ve always loved the houses in Tokyo, many of which were built in the post-war era on these teeny tiny sites. Each home was very petite but also very interesting and  individualistic, 20 cool weird little houses next to each other on any given street. It’s architecturally really exciting to look at, but it’s also urbanistically a non-homogeneous universe. To me, the goal of small lots in L.A. is to densify in a is similar way by creating detached single family houses that are different from each other. I think it’s much better than building mega apartment blocks over three stories of parking, which is the default way of densification. If we could densify our single family areas this way, we’d get a much more exciting kind of urban environment.

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Floating Bungalow House: Photo by John Ellis

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Barbara’s Bestor’s Parenting Life Savers

One on One

My kids’ psychologist recommended I have one on one time with each of my daughters and it’s my number one favorite thing. I want to start doing it with my stepkids. I have one on one time with each daughter, at least a hour and a half, about once a week.It becomes harder to do with teens, but it’s important. It totally changed all of our relationships. That’s the number one thing. Pick them up after school, go get a pastry and a cup of tea and you’ll have a better relationship with your kid. It sounds silly but it works. I’ve done it since my girls were little and it’s amazing.I would pick one  of my daughters up on Mondays and one on Tuesdays and my mom would get the other one.

Parent Hangouts

It may seem obvious, but I think it’s important to become really good friends with people whose children are also friends with your kids. It’s a great single parent trick. It’s nice to go on vacation, have dinners, or hang with other families, especially when you’re friends with the parents. It’s nice to have a network of people taking care of one another.

Clothing Super Shop

I like shopping for my kid’s clothes all in one day, the “clothing super shop,” one big shopping swoop, especially when my kids were little. I like to get it all done so I don’t have to worry about it later. I normally go to: Crew Cuts, H&M, Old Navy, and I also love going to used kid’s clothes stores.There’s a bunch of hand me down kids’ boutiques in LA.  There’s two great hand me down stores for kids in my neighborhood, “Green Beans” and “Grow Kids Grow.” It just changes it up, so your kid doesn’t have all the same clothes that all the other kids have because there’s only so many children’s stores to choose from.

Mini Me

There was a year during the recession were I was working extra hard and took another job while I was also chair of a grad school in addition to running my business. I hired a friend of mine who had previously babysat for me to basically be me, like “mini-me”. She would work from 4 o’clock until 7 o’clock, when I got home. She would hang out with the kids, get everything started with homework and dinner preparation. I’d show up after work and often wouldn’t make it home in time for dinner. It was a relief to have someone as backup that I was paying so I did feel like I burdening my sister or a friend. That helped take the edge off.

I think some people torture themselves trying to do everything. They don’t realize how just two hours a day, three days a week makes a huge difference and is cost efficient. Your kids don’t think of it as you ditching them. It’s not like they are being raised by a nanny, most times they don’t even notice. That extra two hours makes a huge difference career wise.

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Intelligentsia: Photo by Ray Kachatorian

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