Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Trip to The Mansion

                THERE IS  a distinct microcosm of L.A. where poverty is feigned rather than realized, where misfortune is fabricated rather than experienced.  Here lies a counterculture where the residents may resist, but certainly don’t deny the luxuries granted by a state of privilege.  Here, money is rarely tight and the living is rarely anything but easy.  Still, there is an unspoken resistance to the ideals promoted by those who typically find themselves in this privileged state of circumstance.  This strange, paradoxical microcosm is known by the simple moniker, 'The Mansion', and serves as an eccentric home to spoiled hippies.

The Mansion looms over a neighborhood of reasonably sized houses.  It was lavishly remodeled by a man who quickly learned he could not afford the lifestyle the house demanded.  This is how eight college students belonging to the liberal youth were granted access to a house that they so clearly were not meant to belong in.  At The Mansion, all are welcome and the door is always left unlocked.
Anyone who enters the premises realizes they must abandon whatever assumptions they might have had about the house when judging it by its exterior.  As said by housemate Jared Egusa, "I think we're doing our best to respect it, but we certainly aren't limiting ourselves in what we want to do in it."  Beer cans litter the granite counters, trash is ever-present, pop art shrouds the walls.  Though furnished minimally, the clutter fills out the space and breathes livelihood into what would otherwise appear as a sterile and sparse environment.

The housemates willfully avoided the tendency to succumb to demands of ornate furnishing that a house with this level of architectural sophistication asks for.  Rather, it is representative of the lawless, liberal youth of L.A.  When housemate John Puppo had a chance to respond to how he felt about the home that he helped create, he quipped, "So it's beautiful, right, on the outside.  And on the inside it's been torn up and turned into something totally different.  We function opposite, in that a bunch of us look really ridiculous on the outside and on inside are pretty well put together."

           The Great Room is the first room seen upon entering The Mansion.  This sunken cabinet features a fireplace that only burns when intellectuals choose to sit down for an occasional game of chess.  A couple flowered couches decorate the barren room and literary anthologies are carelessly scattered on the floor.  The Great Room is a thinking room.
The next room in in the house is The Room of Chairs.  Largely unoccupied, the room once served as a dining room to the previous owner.  When eight college students moved in, practicality was superseded by experimentation and the room now serves stranger purposes.  One can understand the charm of the house if they are willing to enter a world that operates under its own terms, and as put by James Eckstrom, "part of it is a mentality of openness."  The Room of Chairs arose from the scouring of free furniture posted on craigslist, which gives all the sofas and chairs an appearance of aged wisdom.  What once was a refined dining table has been replaced with a massage table center-piece, still sporting the tape that appeared on it the day it was found on a poverty-stricken street of L.A.  Seven chairs and sofas surround the table, the walls are barren, and an American flag hangs dutifully from the chandelier.

Those who have fallen victim to the charm of The Mansion understand it for what it has come to represent to those who inhabit the space.  The house is constructed under the pretense of what  Jared Egusa comes to describe as a "bohemian paradise."  It's primary purpose is certainly not to eat and sleep, but rather to foster creativity in a unique atmosphere that always encourages before it condemns.  As James Eckstrom meditated on his experience living with seven other people, he said, "I think every good creative environment, at its core, needs a certain level of uncomfortability and a lot of different perspectives because if you get similar minded people, you're going to get strife and argument."  Though all the members of the house certainly embrace alternative lifestyles, their different creative pursuits allow for free-thinking and collaboration.
As might be expected, the majority of the living is done in the Living Room.  The large, open area is fused with an extensive kitchen where the sink is ornamented with foot pedals, just in case it turning the water on manually seems overwhelming.  It is a room where you’d like to offer your guest a place to sit, but the guitars, banjos, ukuleles, and bongos have already taken up all the chairs.  The florescent lights have been replaced with neon colors that give the space an after-hours feeling.  Most any night, people stand around the pool table for a end-of-the-day game of billiards.

The kitchen opens up to a back patio that is referred to as the Garden of Sounds.  There isn’t much space to walk around, seeing that most of the space is covered with water.  From the fountain against a cement fence that isolates The Mansion from the world at large, water pours into the Jacuzzi, which in turn, flows into our liver-shaped infinity pool.

It is hard to not be half appalled and half mesmerized by the lifestyle promoted by The Mansion.  It comes with all of the plagues and praises of the LA youth.  Ultimately, it is a place of unrestricted freedom because of the distinct vision of the eight individuals who invaded and transformed the space.  As Jared Egusa said, "I think we have done a fairly good job at inhabiting this mansion and filling it with out own, unique personal style.  Turning something that was very regal and untouched and then imbuing it with our craziness, our bohemian tendencies.  It's rather conducive to doing, really, whatever your heart desires."  At the Mansion, there is an undeniable sense that the house deserves better, but maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe the Mansion has finally been given the breadth of liveliness that it deserves.  Before the ranks of youth stormed this castle, it served as an unused fortress to an older couple.  Now, the space is both used and abused.  The luxuries are marveled at and thoroughly enjoyed by the unique group that transformed it.

-- Carey Uhl

All photos taken by Benjamin Magrdichian of Boijon Media

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