Renovating a Tiny Bohemian Bungalow in Los Angeles

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The City of Angels is still a city of demolitions. Despite ordinances to preserve Los Angeles’s classic little bungalows, those charming dollops from the early 20th century that have helped define the city’s architectural character continue to be replaced by McMansions and apartment blocks.

One house that slipped through the cracks is a 1927 Spanish Colonial-slash-Craftsman in the Fairfax neighborhood, just south of West Hollywood. Siena Deck won a bidding war with eight other bidders to buy the house in the fall 2020. She paid $1.29million. The interior is a jumble of arches and curves. The jacarandas turn the ground purple in the spring. But what really impressed Ms. Deck, 25, were the decorative and frequently imperfect marks left by the former occupants, who lived there for 17 years.

As Ms. Deck later discovered, the bungalow and its previous owners, Stella Alberti, a wedding dress designer, and her husband, Pedro Alberti, an artist, were featured in a popular home decor book from 2015 called “The New Bohemians.” The author, Justina Blakeney, pegged the couple as “folksy bohemians,” who packed their little house with “tales of adventure, treasure hunting and hand-me-downs.”

The Albertis, who were from Argentina, were clever and thrifty. The Albertis, who were from Argentina, were clever and thrifty. When they broke a plate, Mr. Alberti used the fragments in one of his outdoor tiles on the property. Pieces with mug handles attached to a side yard pizza oven was used for hanging utensils. They created a pattern island under the slipper bathtub in the main bathroom. This was surrounded by plain, less expensive tiles. The Albertis chose to not install window coverings, and let the sunlight filter through the foliage into the living area. Deck was determined to preserve the home’s charm when she sought help in remodeling it a year later. When she sought help in remodeling it a year later, she was determined to preserve its ready-made charm.

“Layer me into this,” she told Kristina Khersonsky, the principal of Studio Keeta, a three-year-old interior design firm in Los Angeles.

Dutifully, Ms. Khersonsky kept the Albertis’ cobalt blue kitchen tiles, which she described as “cute, quirky and wonky.” She matched them to a new, farmhouse-style apron sink and echoed the same blue color in custom papier-mache wall sconces that are visible in the open-plan living room.

The tiles also informed the designer’s choice of pale avocado kitchen cabinets to replace the existing wood-finished ones. The cabinets’ handmade appearance made them “ideal for D.I.Y.” weekend project,” she said, and this was a good thing — she didn’t want them to appear too sleek in their rustic setting.

“Layering in” Ms. Deck meant incorporating her love of color. Ms. Khersonsky kept the off-white color of the living room walls but chose a dark, intense green for the mouldings on the tall, mullioned window and the geometric brick fireplace surround. The color harmonizes well with the exterior foliage, which is visible through the windows. It continues to be the dominant interior element. Even before Ms. Deck knew about the previous owners’ dislike of blinds, the windows in the living room were left bare. The living room furniture includes a 1980s orange velvet sofa, a Jean Lurcat tapestry from the 1950s in shades of gold and cobalt, and a pair red diamond-patterned poufs. The original tiles in the bathroom are enhanced by the pink-orange paint chosen by Ms. Deck. The dining room is painted in a rich, maroon semigloss. (Preference red by Farrow & Ball). Sea-foam green schoolhouse chairs surround a Spanish-inspired mahogany trestle dining table, and a wavy rail Ms. Deck found on Etsy demarcates the raised space (and prevents visitors from falling off the edge and into the tiled entryway).

Two rooms were left pure white for visual relief: a little glassed-in dining nook off the kitchen and Ms. Deck’s bedroom, with its splashes of green textiles.

“I don’t even have a headboard,” she said of her unfussy bed. The second bedroom is rented out to a friend, who visits and leaves. The kitchen renovation alone cost less than $40,000. Khersonsky incorporated Ms. Deck’s artistic identity. The dining room wall is covered with a painting by the homeowner, adorned in maroon, of two figures who are leaning together. This is a women’s home. If I’m going to create a piece of art that’s in a focal point of the house, I want to be sure it has a woman and she’s uplifting.”

Living Small is a biweekly column exploring what it takes to lead a simpler, more sustainable or more compact life.

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