Interior designer: Kristi M. Nelson, KMNelson Design, LLC, 320 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90024; 310/441-0026, kmnelsondesign.com.
Photographs by Werner Straube
Text by Candace Ord Manroe
Produced by Robert Young
After a five-year renovation on his Los Angeles home, Bill Frack can think of only one payoff that would outweigh the disruption: Permanence. As in staying put, now and forever after, even should Hollywood and hell both freeze over. As Kristi Nelson--who happens to be both Bill’s wife and the interior designer who instigated the half-decade of inconvenience--tells it, “Bill says when he retires, he’s locking the gate and putting out the sign, ‘Feed the Frack.’ He’s not leaving for any reason!”
Kristi fell in love with the 1936 Georgian Revival, built for one of the cofounders of UCLA, only after watching it languish on the market for an entire summer. The busy street was off-putting, but good west-side schools and sidewalks for their now 11-year-old son, Ben, finally were incentive enough to get her in the door. One look at the living room’s verdant view: sold.
On the other hand, Bill, as a business management consultant, “was very iffy,” says Kristi. “He didn’t get it at all. He finally said, ‘If you promise me you can make this house into something I will love, we’ll buy it.’ The size of the project was way more than anyone else wanted to take on. It was daunting,” Kristi admits.
Their original plan was to renovate in phases, one floor at a time. But those best-laid plans went the way of load-bearing walls--nowhere. “We were starting in the kitchen, when the structural engineer informed us that this whole thing was being held together by Hail Marys. It was a house of cards, with no load-bearing walls to support it,” Kristi explains.
The kitchen’s ceiling sagged, and the upstairs’ joists bowed, so a new plan was devised to tackle both the main floor and upstairs at once. After living in the house for two years, the family--not according to plan--had to move out for 21⁄2 years. “The whole project, start to finish, took five years,” Kristi remembers with a sigh of exhaustion.
As only the fourth family to own the house, Kristi and Bill were lucky to have inherited few “improvements.” The only one, in fact, was an inappropriate addition at the back tacked on in the ’50s. “We had to remove the wart,” laughs Kristi. In its place, they erected a stunning tribute to Georgian Revival design--an elegant veranda overlooking a new pool.
“Bill and I both got our master’s [degrees] in France. Mine was in studio art and art history, with a concentration in 18th- and 19th-century architecture. The Palladian window and the symmetry of the veranda refer back to my art history background,” Kristi explains. No surprise, the new veranda’s a fave.
Except for gutting the kitchen, the main floor went through no major changes. “We kept the original footprint,” notes Kristi. Upstairs, however, was a different matter. Only the original master bedroom, now son Ben’s bedroom, retained its dimensions.
Through all the extensive reshaping, the Nelsons were firm about one thing: “We finished the house to look as it should have originally appeared,” Kristi says. “We replastered the walls, recast the plaster moldings, and installed iron windows for that whole European reference.”
The renovation hinged on her twofold philosophy: “Design is about reflecting who you are, but it’s also about reflecting the context. Older houses have a soul. You have to look for that and listen to it,” she counsels.
Kristi’s sensibility mirrored that of her home. “My particular taste gravitates toward antiques and a European feel. I also think a lot of color is what brings a home to life. It provides warmth and makes it personal. Because this home had a history, I didn’t want to introduce anything trendy. It wouldn’t have been right for the house, and it wouldn’t have reflected our personal taste.”
Kristi painted the living room walls a happy yellow and the intricate moldings a crisp white. She and Bill both fell for the red Stark rug the minute they saw it. “It’s almost a leopard print but not quite,” describes Kristi. “And it was on sale! We rolled it up, and it sat in storage for three years, until we could move back in.” Turns out, it was worth the wait--and not just for the aesthetics. The rug’s coloration is immensely forgiving.
“One of our family’s traditions is an annual Christmas party,” says Kristi. “We had to miss it while we were renovating, and that was one of the first things we looked forward to hosting when we moved back in. About a half hour into the party, someone bumped into a tray and red wine flew everywhere. We love red wool carpet!”
Besides its warm palette, the living room is personalized with antiques like the pair of matching Georgian mirrors the couple found for a steal at auction, period French chairs from an estate sale, and a bowfront chest surmounted by a Georgian hanging cupboard. “I don’t buy pieces because I have places for them but because I love them,” says Kristi. There’s also a practical reason for collecting. “If a piece has lived 300 years, it’ll live a little longer. I’m always looking, no matter where I happen to be.”
The living room’s sofa and curtains are a cotton-linen damask blend that Kristi found for a comparatively inexpensive $25 a yard. “I’d wanted a particular beautiful Italian shade of yellow-gold, and this was it.”A historical paint color covers the dining room walls, but the mottled silver-and-gold ceiling “throws a really yellow cast on the walls for that bronze look,” she explains.
The master bedroom is part of the addition that replaced the “wart” and is Kristi’s favorite interior space. Color is the key. “It’s painted a peachy-apricot color, and the room faces east. It’s the warmest, truest color to wake up to. It’s that color of the horizon just as the sun is rising.” A good color to feed the Frack.