California dreaming

california house

The 1931 Spanish Colonial revival house in L.A.’s historic Miracle Mile that PEM’s George Putnam Curator of American Art sold to move to Salem.

Almost every day in L.A. is like a perfect summer’s afternoon in coastal New England: sunny, warm, dry, a fresh cooling breeze off the ocean, the scent of flowers in the air. Except for palm trees, the similarities between New England’s best weather and the SoCal climate never ceased to amaze and delight us during the 11 ½ years we lived in L.A.

I knew we were in for a shock when my husband and I decided to move to Salem with our two young children so I could start working at PEM this year…in January. There was this winter’s snow, the late spring and the rain. Needless to say, we miss L.A.

But we traded our classic 1931 Spanish Colonial revival house in L.A.’s historic Miracle Mile for a Salem classic: a 19th-century carriage house in the McIntire district. On the West Coast, I lived just nine blocks from my job at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and walked or biked to the museum and all around my neighborhood. Now I do the same in Salem.

carriage house

The curator’s historic carriage house in Salem. Photo credit

The walkability of Salem feels just right and like my daily rhythms in L.A.  And it’s summer now. Plus I’m thrilled to be working on PEM’s presentation of LACMA’s exhibition: Living in a Modern Way, California Design, 1930-1965. Opening at PEM next March, California Design is one of several LACMA-PEM projects happening over the next few years, and these planned collaborations are part of the reason I knew joining PEM would be a great move.

California Design explores how during a period of extraordinary growth in the Golden State, California designers shaped what it meant to live “in a modern way.”  They placed less emphasis on tradition, developed creative applications of technologies used during World War II, cultivated informal, indoor-outdoor living, designed with comfort and vibrant color in mind, and turned to Asia, Europe and Latin America for design sources. It will be a fun challenge to present this show “back East,” where when we think about American architecture and decorative arts we usually jump in our mind’s eye to examples made hundreds of years ago in New England.

One in eight  Americans lives in California, the most populous state in the U.S. Chances are you know someone who lives there if you haven’t already visited. California Design will help answer some fundamental questions: what is the so-called California way of life? What is the California look? How did it develop? How did it become and remain so influential? This exhibition will be a great reminder for me personally of living and working in L.A. More importantly, I hope it will help connect PEM visitors with the many who call, or called, California home.


Julius Shulman (1910–2009), photographer, Pierre Koenig, architect, Stahl House (Case Study House #22), Los Angeles, 1960 © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library, Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10). Photo courtesy of

Editor’s Note: When LACMA closed the exhibition last June, they collected on their blog Unframed various relevant posts, from an interview with the architects who designed the exhibition to posting trailers for their film series Grand Designs, Mid-Century Life in the Movies.


  1. Karen Palmer says:

    Two beautiful houses, although I admit a bias towards the one I pass every day on my way to work.

  2. Ruffi says:

    A tale of 2 cities, both lucky!

  3. JANINE ONEILL says:


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