ENMESHED: TINA CHOW AND THE TAGGART HOUSE
Dappled by sunlight filtering through sycamores and cypress, a circuitous road in the hills of Los Feliz near Hollywood suddenly reveals the 1922 Taggart House, dominating a corner covered with succulents and wildflowers. Sprawling over hills near Griffith Observatory, the Los Feliz neighborhood is considered congenial, yet because of the topography, intensely private, appealing to various actors and musicians–Casey Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna. Although an adult when her parents bought their home in Los Feliz, Tina Chow, model, designer, and style icon was no less luminous than the Taggart House where her parents lived and she placed her own imprint.
Architect for film stars in the 1920‘s and 1930‘s, Lloyd Wright designed the Taggart House which has a complicated genealogy. Built in 1922 by the son of Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW), the architect was confusingly named Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. but known as Lloyd Wright. An eminent architect, he trained as a draftsman in his father’s Oak Park Studio in Illinois and studied engineering at the University of Wisconsin. Lloyd and his brother John moved to L.A. in 1912 or 1913 where Lloyd began working with an early proponent of modernism, Irving Gill. Following his employment with Gill, Lloyd worked at Paramount Studios as a production designer, and as a landscape architect with Olmstead & Olmstead, of New York City Central Park acclaim. Lloyd worked with his overbearing, ultra egotistical father on the Hollyhock House. To understand how self absorbed FLW was, it’s worth noting that when he wrote letters to his sons, he always signed them, not father or papa, but Frank Lloyd Wright!
At the turn of the twentieth century, Los Angeles was incredibly exciting for an architect. R. M. Schindler and Richard Neutra had moved to California from Vienna and American architects Irving Gill and FLW were building brilliantly modern residences. FLW worked with textile block modules, designing houses for the wealthy, including oil heiress Aline Barnsdall.
“While the interior seems inspired by Japanese architecture, the exterior utilizes stepped pyramid motifs associated with Mesoamerican architecture.”
Lloyd Wright also worked with textile block, but in 1922, designing a home for Helen Taggart’s mother, Martha Taggart, he worked with cast concrete using board and batten detailing, and an open plan. Having produced many of the renderings of FLW prairie houses for the Wasmuth Portfolio published in Berlin, Lloyd absorbed the principles of this total design concept. Bookshelves and light fixtures are built in. While the interior seems inspired by Japanese architecture, the exterior utilizes stepped pyramid motifs associated with Mesoamerican architecture. The Taggart House was perfect for Walter E. Lutz and his wife, Mona Miwako Furuki, parents of Bettina, Tina, and Adelle, or Bonny, Lutz when they moved to LA. Hardwood floors and unusual detailing plus a dramatic two story living/dining space were enhanced by their collection of Frank Lloyd Wright furniture. Tina and her husband Michael Chow, originally an architect and designer before becoming a restaurateur, collected the FLW furniture as they avidly collected art deco. Korean porcelain, and of course the Lutz bamboo collection complemented the austere interiors.
Walter Lutz, trained as a minister, met his wife when he was stationed in Japan after World War II. They married in Kobe but were forced to return to the United States so Mona could retain American citizenship. Discomfited by the Midwest, specifically Cleveland, Ohio where their daughters were born, they returned to Japan in the late 1960’s. From the moment they met, they had shared a passion for bamboo, and began collecting during the 1940’s when Asian antiques were widely available due to the chaos of war.
Tina’s parents filled the storage spaces and outer buildings of the Taggart house with a spectacular bamboo collection. Clearly, Chow’s interest in bamboo stemmed from her childhood, during which her father became so enamored with the material he became a prominent purveyor of bamboo window shades and other items in the U.S. During the 1980‘s Bergdorf Goodman’s Tina Chow boutique featured quartz crystals and amethyst pendants encased in bamboo, a spare and elegant line of jewelry.
The Lutz collection is one of the finest in the U. S. and a portion of their collection is now displayed at the Denver Art Museum. Their love of the material is evident–cherishing even broken and cracked bamboo vessels that had been repaired according to Japanese aesthetics (the repair is evident rather than concealed). Adelle remembers embarrassment about her parents’ preoccupation; it was an oddity in the 1960s in Ohio where she grew up. Adelle, and probably Tina as well, began to appreciate the collection only after they traveled to Japan and experiencing bamboo in its cultural context.
In the early 20th century numerous architects were influenced by Japanese architecture, which was extremely minimal. FLW even designed a hotel in Tokyo, characterized by typical surprise elements found in Japanese architecture. By the time Tina Chow’s family purchased the Taggart house, it was a classic, and more importantly, it had never been modified.
A fusion of east and west, Bettina “Tina” Chow was an icon of beauty, sleek and talented, Chow and her sister popularized the use of Eurasian models in the 1960’s, initially appearing in Shiseido advertisements while living in Tokyo with their parents. Tina met and married Michael Chow in 1972, and they moved to LA where he opened Mr. Chow LA. Tina continued to be a muse for designers such as Issey Miyake and Yves St. Laurent. Her life changed after Mr. Chow’s restaurant opened in New York City and she developed friendships with artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
“I like the idea of wearing very personal jewelry and not so much decoration.”
Chow’s spare elegant personal style was the result of absorbing Japanese aesthetics via her parents and her own experiences. She began designing jewelry in the 1980‘s. Crystal, quartz and bamboo were her preferred materials. She worked with artist Kosuge Shochikudo, who produced baskets used in tea ceremonies. Enveloping the stones in black bamboo, Chow’s jewelry was an authentic expression of her Eurasian heritage. She probably met Shochikudo through her parents, who collected his baskets as well as those made by his father, Chikudo Shochikudo.
Vogue US, August 1987 quoted Tina, “I like the idea of wearing very personal jewelry and not so much decoration,” Working with raw crystals and other stones, Tina remarked, “Uncut stones are so wonderful, why muddle about with them?” Her jewelry was packaged in small pouches wrapped in Japanese mulberry paper cartons.
The Taggart house, while the Lutz’s lived there, was the perfect expression of their unique vision, the bamboo collection, the natural landscape, and jewel-like interior spaces. The same could be said for Tina Chow’s work.