The Beat Goes On
Encino digs once owned by Sonny and Cher get a loving preservation
by local architect and builder Kenneth Lee.
Written byRachel Heller •
In their heyday, Sonny and Cher held court at a one-story, modern-style home where Sonny composed tunes on an upright piano and Cher pranced through the halls in hot pink bell-bottoms. shag carpeting and heavy, fringed curtains adorned the dining room. According to local lore, Cher’s poolside attire made neighbors gawk.
Look closely at the pair’s 1967 comedic film Good Times, and you might recognize views of the San Fernando Valley fanning out behind their hilltop abode. Before they packed their bags for Holmby Hills, the iconic couple called Encino home.
Forty-five years and a catastrophic fire later, their former abode has been given new life by architect and owner Kenneth David Lee. Despite its outdated fixtures and damage from the blaze, Lee saw the bones of a chic structure worth preserving. Some things, he realized, are too good to pass up. Take, for instance, a section of wrought iron fencing in the backyard that bears the telltale initials “S” and “C.”
“When Sonny and Cher looked out the living room, they saw their initials in this fence,” Lee says, gesturing toward the ornate artifact. “How could you not preserve that?”
Aside from its pop-culture appeal, however, what attracted Lee to the 1965 three-bedroom house was its fundamentally sound design. With his wife, Andee Lee, the architect restored the home and expanded it, converting the property into a pristine oasis of “green” efficiency and artful livability.
Foremost during the restoration process was Lee’s desire to maintain the volume and character of the house. Also a residential contractor, Lee took care to preserve some of the home’s original materials, such as terrazzo flooring in the hallway. Still, he didn’t shy away from elegant, modern upgrades. He knocked out the wall around the front door and let in natural light with frosted, laminated glass. He also installed 54 solar panels on the roof, which generate about 75% of the energy the family uses.
The only space Lee added to the 3,250-square-foot dwelling was a large, airy studio for his home office. Getting to the detached studio is half the fun: visitors must traverse a spacious front courtyard that Lee and daughter Catie Lee Casazza, a Valley-based landscape designer, re-imagined as a verdant mini-ecosystem. The front of the studio opens to a generous koi pond, and Lee hops over a handful of stepping stones to reach its entrance.
“Nothing was here; this was straight concrete,” recalls Lee, whose portfolio includes more than 500 projects in the LA area. “When I first saw it, I thought, ‘We could have this beautiful entry court. We could create this whole environment in here.’”
Lee first learned about the property in 2005 when he was hired by the previous owners to rebuild it after a fire. Soon, however, he recognized the site’s potential and offered to buy it.
“I designed what I felt the house could be,” Lee says. “Philosophically, it was worth preserving as much of the integrity of the house as we could, because the spaces were really good spaces.” Plus, he adds, if it had been sold as-is, it would have been surely marked as a tear-down. “I really felt strongly that the house’s history should be preserved. There aren’t many places in the Valley that have this kind of history.”
Along with the initials in the back yard fence, stray items of Sonny and Cher memorabilia accent the home’s décor, which spotlights bold, eclectic art and mid-century modern furniture. An autographed image of the couple sits on a dining room shelf. A vintage Good Times movie poster hangs in the guest bathroom. The celebrity duo’s presence is still felt–subtly–today.
“What was good design in the 1960s is still good design,” Lee says. “The core essence of the house is still the same as it was when Sonny and Cher lived here. We’ve just adapted it to our needs.”