Cliff May’s last house: Mandalay
Built in Sullivan Canyon in West Los Angeles in 1956 at the north end of the Rivera Ranch development, May designed Mandalay as a one-story dwelling with wings projecting at right angles from a central spine. He covered the low-pitched roofs with pebbles from a California creek bed and in two sections he cut skylights extending from one end of the roof to the other. He also extensively utilized glass walls, sliding glass windows, and indoor/outdoor planters—all design elements used in the Experimental House. More importantly, May added a new concept to the idea of bringing the outdoors in. Not only did he use the same paving materials inside and out but also the same ceiling and wall materials. Wooden roof beams and rafters as well as board-and-batten and white-plastered walls flowed from the outdoors in. Moreover, May included radiant heating in the patio terraces and outdoor lighting; ideas that he used in his other homes to make the outdoors feel as part of the indoors at night.
In arranging the rooms of the house May combined open planning with private spaces for the family. A large house, consisting of 6,300 square feet, May designed the entry, kitchen, and living, dining, and family rooms as one open area with no intervening doors. However, in creating spaces for the bedrooms, dressing rooms, and bathrooms, May did not make use of partitions as he had in the Experimental House. Instead, he built interior walls and doors to provide privacy for these rooms.
What is most interesting about Mandalay was May’s ideas about the ranch style. Although May designed the house as an asymmetrical, one-story dwelling, the plan was complex, forming courtyards on both sides of the house rather than having the main courtyard in the center. The roof was low-pitched with wide overhanging eaves but covered with rock rather than wood shingles. May included board-and-batten as well as white-plastered walls but felt that he needed to give the house “a sophisticated touch of the [Spanish] past.” To achieve such a worldly look, he added Spanish, Mexican, and French architectural crafts and decorative elements: a sixteenth-century Gothic grille, historic doors, lighting fixtures, and wrought-iron door handles, and antiquated books. Indeed, May’s California ranch house of the 1950s resembled a Contemporary Modern house rather than a nineteenth-century California adobe that he once strove to emulate in the 1930s.
Mandalay was demolished and replaced with a private housing complex; only the gate house survives.
To learn more about the history and design of houses by Cliff May, visit the About Cliff May page.