Grand spaces are made approachable in this twenties-era Mediterranean beauty
If there's such a thing as design serendipity, Tracey and Mark Smolin were lucky enough to stumble upon it.
Having just purchased a "characterless" house in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, the couple had resigned themselves to the fact that finding their dream home just wasn't in the cards.
Then the phone call came. "Our Realtor saw this house and called me," remembers Tracey. "She said, 'I really think you need to see this one.' I walked in and just fell in love."
It's not difficult to understand why. Located in a quiet, tree-lined Los Angeles neighborhood, the 1928 Mediterranean Revival home was one of architect Gordon B. Kaufmann's earliest individual commissions--an L-shaped structure with a private courtyard, generous rooms, and elegant details. "The black-and-white marble floors in the entry were the first thing to catch my eye," remembers Tracey. "But it was the beautiful details in the living room that sent me over the edge!"
While the house had more than its share of architectural history, its new status as home base for a very busy family of five (Tracey, Mark, Arielle, 15, Clare, 12, and Elliot, 8) and two Labradoodles steered designer Mark Williams away from stuffy and toward family-friendly. "Like so many of the grand homes of the 1920s, this house could have easily come off as intimidating," notes Williams. "Instead, it reflects Tracey and Mark's personalities--friendly, with nothing off-limits."
"I love the architectural history of this house so much," notes Tracey. "Yet I wanted it to be a comfortable home for my children to grow up in--a place where we could entertain but also a spot that we would be able to enjoy on a daily basis, being inspired by the beauty of our surroundings."
With its original plaster moldings and a wall of arched leaded glass windows, the living room is, architecturally, pure Kaufmann--lofty in its proportions and elegant in its appointments. Embracing those ultratraditional elements, including an impressive stone entryway, Williams and Tracey opted for a straightforward furniture plan and a light, airy palette to freshen things up. "This is one of my favorite spaces," says Tracey. "We used color, but in a really subtle way. It has a calming effect."
Williams treated the living room, with its spacious dimensions, as two separate entities. A seating area that includes twin sofas flanking a fireplace (original to the home) commands one side of the room, while a reading area with a mahogany bookcase and a library table piled with books (one of which includes a chapter on the Smolin house) anchors the other. Identical chandeliers illuminate each section.
"The rooms are voluminous, but Kaufmann kept the details rather spare so that the interiors feel tranquil rather than overly ornate," says Williams.
Just down the marble-tiled entry hall from the living room, the paneled dining room is arguably the home's most formal space. It also provided a design dilemma. With its majestic proportions and murky wood, the area was originally more forbidding than family-friendly. The solution was straightforward, if slightly time-consuming. Walls were bleached numerous times over a month-long period until they were the perfect shade of golden honey. "We wanted to honor the formality of such a grand space while toning it down a bit," says Williams. "It was a painstaking process, but it really gave new life to the beautiful wood."
In the kitchen and adjoining family room, a mix of woods, a warm, welcoming palette, and plenty of elbow room combine to create the family epicenter. Skateboards and dogs underfoot are standard issue here.
To allow plenty of room for family dinners and school projects, Williams installed a long dining table running perpendicular to the center island and flanked it with steel café chairs for casual elegance. A mix of materials finds common ground. Painted cabinets mingle with walnut. Stainless steel appliances join vintage hardware. Unlacquered brass fittings draw attention to a double sink. Antique mercury-glass hanging lights add classic appeal.
In the adjacent family room, comfort was a top priority. "We chose kidproof fabrics and went for a more casual yet still traditional look," notes Williams. To fill the need for additional storage space, he installed green-painted bookshelves. The shelves and the furniture's soft blue upholstery allow a seamless flow of space.
While Tracey's penchant for collecting is obvious throughout the house (the living room is brimming with Peking glass, chinoiserie boxes, and Chinese pottery), her more delicate collections feel more at home upstairs. Mercury glass clamors for attention in antique cabinets. Victorian shell boxes line shelves and tabletops in the master bedroom.
"I love collecting," says Tracey. "The hunt for the perfect piece is always right around the corner in my world. Wherever we go, I stop at antiques shops or flea markets to see if there is a treasure there awaiting me."
Small-scale in comparison to other rooms, the master bedroom is cocoonlike and cozy, serene in palette and personality. A handmade textured wallpaper from Italy envelops the area. Luxe bed curtains swathe the four-poster, and soft blue-gray curtains punctuate the otherwise neutral space, subtle in color and design.
"Tracey is drawn to a style that is pretty and tranquil," says Williams. "The palette stayed true to that--soft and warm, with whimsical patterns and accessories to keep it from getting too serious.
"Gordon Kaufmann certainly set the stage here," says Williams, "but Tracey and Mark brought the personality."
Interior design: Mark Williams, Mark J. Williams Design, 212 N. Plymouth Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90004; 323/856-9089, markjwilliamsdesign.com.
Photography: Dominique Vorillon
At the other end of the living room, a chandelier from Paul Ferrante crowns a shapely antique library table. The moldings and stone door surround are original to the house.
On one wall, leaded-glass windows offer a glimpse into the back garden.
Tracey Smolin immediately fell in love with the entry's marble tiles and the scalloped molding in the living room beyond.
Designer Mark Williams lightened the dining room's mood by bleaching the paneled walls. Curtain fabric is from Le Gracieux, available through Mimi London.
The kitchen cabinets are the same soft sage green as the family room's bookshelves. The striking oven hood is custom-made.
Designer Williams topped an antique table base with Petit Granit from Belgium for a more informal look. Chairs are from Design Within Reach.
A colonnade running the length of the exterior sums up the personality of a home that is simultaneously romantic and historical. Formal columns and original shutters frame the area, while fancifully painted wicker furniture, Moroccan lanterns, and a string of lights set the tone. Staged for relaxing evenings under the stars, the retreat offers views not only of a manicured Mediterranean-inspired garden but also of a multicolored skate ramp beyond. One part Gordon B. Kaufmann and one part Tony Hawk.
An elegant terrace outside the living room highlights architect Gordon B. Kaufmann's early signature style.
To make space for an upstairs family room, the master bedroom was made smaller and more intimate. "The scale is perfect," says Tracey. "I love the serene and cozy quality." The bed-curtain fabric is from Cowtan & Tout. Love seat fabric is from Ralph Lauren.
An avid collector, Tracey lines tabletops in the master bedroom with Victorian shell boxes.
Subdued tones and luminescent tiles give the master bath a luxuriously spa-like feel. Sconces are from Kallista. The bench is from Waterworks.
Mark and Tracey Smolin with their three children-(from left) Elliot, Arielle, and Clare.