This Art Director Found His L.A. House on a Stroll—24 Hours Later, He Was in Escrow

Domino, January 2024
Written by Lydia Geisel
See full story: Domino
Featuring 1930s Spanish Bungalow

If you asked most Angelenos for their top L.A. survival tips, you might expect to hear “live near an Erewhon” or “get out to Malibu once a week.” But for one art director, it’s all about putting down roots in an area where you don’t have to rely on your car. Don’t believe him? That’s how he found his house—on a walk.

After renting in the Hancock Park neighborhood for about 10 years, the creative (a Midwestern transplant who works on feature films but also has a passion for wildlife photography) dove into the über-competitive housing market nearly a decade ago. It took four years of getting outbid by cash offers before, in 2018, he stumbled across a circa-1934 house while heading to a nearby restaurant on foot. The “reduced” sticker on the “For Sale” sign was practically begging him to take a look around. “Instantly I saw how I could make it work,” he recalls. Twenty-four hours later, he was in escrow.

Since he has a background in architecture, the idea of restoring a Spanish-style house in a historic preservation district was exciting. But he’d need plenty of backup: Ari Engelman, a project manager at Tim Barber Architects, and interior designer Tricia Portelli of Scribe Studio soon stepped onto the scene. Right away, Portelli clocked the dated magnesite tile in the front entry and stairwell and the ketchup-and-mustard color scheme going on in the kitchen. They needed to go.

The faux wood ceiling in the dining room was a real head-scratcher, too, but the homeowner was adamant about saving it. Swathed in shades of red and orange, it could be likened to a Moroccan-stamped leather handbag—at least that’s how he likes to describe it. “We ended up keeping it, which I was very on the fence about,” notes Portelli. The ceiling needed to connect to the walls, she decided, and eventually they landed on an almost-black shade of green (Nitty Gritty by Portola) that sets the mood for dinner parties, many of which are preceded by a round of chess or Exploding Kittens in the den-slash-game room.

The existing wood paneling in the den, along with all of the reclaimed doors in the house, simply got a fresh coat of stain. The reference point for the wood tones was a large pie chest in the primary bedroom, a beloved antique the homeowner scored in Nantucket years ago. The rest of the home’s color palette was subtly informed by his travels to safari lodges and objects he’s collected or been gifted over time, like a wood paddle from Mongolia and an arrow quiver from Botswana.

While Portelli felt confident going extra-dark in the dining room (walls of windows helped), the entryway was in desperate need of light. Halfway through the project, everyone realized how dim it was when the solid front door, usually left wide open on busy construction days, was shut. “The whole space just felt dead,” recalls the homeowner. J. Michael Designs and Leslie Osinoff of Osinoff General Contractors crafted a new rondel glass door to take its place. The style, which is commonly found in 1930s homes in the area, features round disks that obscure the view for privacy while still allowing plenty of sunshine to seep inside.

When the homeowner wants an unobscured view of the outdoors, he retreats to his bathroom, where a marble-clad soaking tub sits front and center. “I’m not a huge bath person, but if I’m going to have one, I’m going to do it right,” he says with a laugh. For visual warmth, they carried wood flooring into the space, but for actual warmth, they extended the brass shower enclosure to the ceiling. When the small ventilation window at the top is closed, the area functions as a makeshift steam room.

His stock of incense is never far away, either. It only took him one visit to the Nickey Keyhoe store, where the employees were burning Tuscon by Astier de Villatte, for him to realize that was his scent. “One thing I’m quietly proud of is whenever anybody comes in and the first thing they say is, ‘Your house smells really good. What is that?’” he says. After a long day of working—or walking—it’s the perfect way to unwind.