The Pandemic Gave “Forever Home” New Meaning

Love and renovation in the time of COVID-19.

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These past few weeks have been a doozy (official description).

But this time spent sheltering in place at our home in Los Angeles has brought some serious clarity and something beautiful has come of it. My husband, Erik, and I have realized we are good at slowing down. We’ve realized we don’t need to be working and leaving and working and leaving. We’ve realized how fulfilling it is to be around our 1-year-old daughter, Ever, all day, even if it’s just to give her a squeeze between calls. We’ve realized that when it comes down to it, or more appropriately, when it all goes down, we want to be home. And home is with as many people we love as possible—cousins, grandparents, and siblings in Pittsburgh.

This virus has given the planet and its people a chance to recalibrate. To be quiet and (between the panic and heartbreak so many are experiencing) to listen. We leaned in to what has been given to us through all this. And that is a glimpse into a simpler life.

I have been on the go since the day I left college. These past couple of weeks have helped me realize I don’t necessarily need that. We have all been on a dizzying merry-go-round, and it seems someone pushed the stop button. And to be honest, it’s a relief to be still. My brain has been freer to create again.

Erik and I got to thinking: What if this new way of life became our new way of life? What if we traveled less and saw more? What if we had Sunday night family dinner, drove our old, beat-up car around country roads, and joined the Y when the day finally comes that we can reconnect in person with our community? Would we be better at our jobs? Better to our family? Better to ourselves?

So we have decided to sell our house. I have to be honest, I’ve never felt as attached to a home as I have to this one—it’s a dream. The neighborhood is so intimate; we feel like we are in the woods with no neighbors! I poured love into this gem of a place, but now I’m ready to set it free.

Normally, the renovation would have been full speed ahead—I had already demoed the kitchen cabinets (see above about always being on the go). But once we started sheltering in place, I saw what’s already there in a different light. I renovated for how we’re living right now: slower, more simply. So here’s a greatest hits tour of my favorite rooms and updates. In the words of Tom Petty, “It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going, what lies ahead I have no way of knowing.” And I’ll tell you what, if there’s anything I’ve learned about life (especially my chaotic gypsy one), it’s: “Make plans. Adjust accordingly.” Just like any good reno project.

Celebrate Old-School Charm

I surprised myself. Usually, I like to bring in modern lines, but at the last minute, I decided to do traditional kitchen cabinets by Lauren Liess & Co. for Unique Kitchens and Baths and Walker Zanger soapstone countertops. I thought, I don’t want to fight this house; I want to go with it. It has storybook whimsy—the beautiful ivy on the brick, the magical old windows—that I couldn’t take away. We also kept the original blue floor tile and the same footprint so the space feels like it has always been here. The older I get, the more I understand design from the past, and the more I respect it.

Between the time I ordered the kitchen cabinets and when they arrived, I decided to do two Native Trails sinks. I was thinking about Ever playing with her friends outside—I want to be connected to that. So I moved the sink to look out onto the little lagoon pool. Now I had plumbing for two basins—and in my imagination the second one would be for the ice and drinks (that is, if anyone was ever to come over again). But I didn’t have a base built for it. I called my friend Matthew Deters of Deter Fabrik and we cut apart my favorite table and turned it into the cabinet front. Repurposing something well loved offers that extra bit of character.

Around the corner is one of the house’s two fireplaces. The ambience and the light it gives off—it’s everything. At 5:00 we stop working and build a fire to change the atmosphere. We play cards—Erik and his little sister, who is quarantining with us, are teaching me their favorite family game, Pitch—and we always put on some records.

Bring the Fun (and the Light)

Our living room is one of the original cottages of The Uplifters, an invitation-only social club founded in 1913. The structure (which had additions built later on) was brought from Lake Arrowhead and was a movie set during Prohibition. Walt Disney and Will Rogers had cocktails in this cabin! Out of respect for the history, I didn’t do much to this space. I just added new pendant lights and three Ever sofas from my new Crate & Barrel collection instead of a sectional. Every day, Erik, his sister, and I are on the sofas at some point—we each get our own. The perks of being a designer during quarantine!

“I thought, I don’t want to fight this house; I want to go with it. It has storybook whimsy—the beautiful ivy on the brick, the magical old windows—that I couldn’t take away.”

It’s a fine line between preserving a home’s bones and making it your own—you have to bring in different elements for a new experience. I’m not trying to create a theme party! So for the lighting, I chose simple globes with a contemporary twist. Armed with advice from my electrician friends, I taught myself how to change out a fixture. Once the focal points were settled, it was all about layering in the details, like stylish outlets and switches from LeGrand. That shelf was actually built for flipping through records, which I didn’t realize until I put one in there!

Trust Happy Accidents

In the master bedroom, I wanted the warmth of the original concrete stucco walls, but had no desire to paint the old stuff, so we just recoated it. At the same time, I was figuring out how to lighten up the beams throughout the house. First, I brought in a sandblaster, which, let’s just say, was a bad move—it took all the texture away. When my team didn’t tape off the beams, I ended up loving how the concrete mixture looked on the wood. So we used the leftover stucco on the beams. If I were in the English countryside and I saw this ceiling, I would think it was perfect. Why not enjoy it here in L.A.?

A massive renovation to the master bath just wasn’t necessary when I could create a livable space with easy fixes. The most major: a concrete skim coat. You don’t rip out the old tile, you put the finish directly on top—instant results. And plants do wonders. Sometimes it’s as easy as cutting off the neighbor’s pretty branches (with permission!) to turn a usable room into this sweet little spot.

“It’s a fine line between preserving a home’s bones and making it your own—you have to bring in different elements for a new experience.”

Channel Your Inner Artist

The face drawings on the guest room collage wall is my party trick: If you come over for wine sometime, I’ll draw your portrait without looking down. I’ve always saved stuff—pages out of magazines, posters, letters, pictures—in this massive box that travels with me from house to house. I start by placing items close together, then work my way out so it feels full, using nails, pushpins, washi tape, you name it. A massive mood board magically hides a work-in-progress surface until you’re ready for a full paint or plaster job. Likewise, a little paint is a game changer: I ripped up the old, dingy carpet and did a graphic checkerboard on the floor.

Find Your Place in the Sun

We painted the external window frames a glossy black to bring the facade up to date but not mess with it too much. I wanted the house to feel like your grooviest little hang—the coolest secret restaurant at night, and in the daytime, a cottage somewhere in Europe. We rotate between spots for dinner—when we eat out in the courtyard, we play Italian music—and swim in the lagoon pool every day with the Beach Boys on. The greenery comes right up against the edges, so it’s such a special feeling.

Yes, it will be sad to leave this pretty house, but in the end what makes it our “forever home” is a fluid thing. Find me a storied property, a new project, a place to apply my vision, and a little elbow grease, and I’m ready to move in. As long as I have loved ones and a paintbrush by my side.

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY AMY NEUNSINGER

Published by DOMINO.