What’s fantastic about being an architect is you can walk into a house and see its potential,” says Linda Brettler referring to her chosen profession. “However, it’s equally frustrating because you also know the reality of just how much work it’s going to take!” Indeed, when Brettler first saw what would become her own home—a 1920s Spanish-style house by architect George H. Fruehling, perched on an acre in the Hollywood Hills—it had been on the market for some time. “It was a challenge only an architect could love,” she says.
Although seduced by the old Hollywood grandeur of the 11,000-squarefoot house and grounds, which came complete with a meandering brook, a grotto and a faux-bois bridge so fantastical it could have been designed for the set of Snow White, Brettler was well aware of the restoration work required. However, for the architect, who has four boys with husband Matthew Weiner, creator of the hit television series Mad Men, the property had all the makings of the perfect family compound.
A graduate of Harvard and UCLA, Brettler opened her architectural practice in 1996. Although her ground-up projects have a contemporary tone, she is reputed for her bespoke renovations of historical properties, and she applied that detail-oriented thoughtfulness to the renovation of her own home. “Old Spanish-style houses tend to be dark,” she says. “The trick is to bring back the glamour of the original design while opening up the spaces to bring in light and create an indoor-outdoor connection, which you really want in a California house.”
In the kitchen, she modernized the space to fit the large family’s needs by removing a formerly adjacent maid’s room and pantry to create a large prep area, eat-in space and an expanded breakfast room. However, Brettler insists it is equally important not to lose the integrity of a room’s original intention. “I don’t like blowing open everything,” explains Brettler, who defined the kitchen area with beams. “My big thing is for spaces to feel distinct.”
The configuration and volumes of the main rooms—living, dining and library—remained essentially the same, but upstairs a long dormitorystyle hallway was entirely reconfigured to house a master suite and three children’s bedrooms. Brettler also transformed a room perched above the pool into a study for her husband with a new ceiling and window-backed shelving, and, in a creative repurposing of space, she opened up a former mirrored workout room just off the pool to create an indoor-outdoor loggia complete with a bar inspired by The Musso & Frank Grill.
Throughout the spaces, Brettler’s trademark love of detail is evident. In the living room, she restored the original hand-painted coffered ceiling and had the walls hand-troweled with a subtle metallic paint for a plaster-like finish. She also crowned the breakfast room with Decostyle ceiling moldings made from plasterwork recreated for the Griffith Observatory’s restoration to complement an original Batchelder tile planter. “Rooms resolved to that level of detail create a richer experience,” notes the architect, whose approach was not lost on builder Eran Shahar. “With Linda, you learn something new on every project,” says Shahar, who worked with partner Shimon Shahar on the home. “There are no repeats, and every last detail is custom. She is so quality-oriented that each project I do with her pushes my work to a higher level.”
Period-appropriate fixtures and lighting, including Art Deco pendants hanging above the kitchen island that once hung in the city’s old Bullocks Wilshire department store, mix with a personal collection of furnishings, mostly sourced from flea markets, auctions, estate sales and online sources. “You can find amazing pieces that have far more character,” Brettler says of items like an oversize Egyptian Revival mirror she found at auction and placed in the living room. “Not a lot of people are going to be interested in such a tall piece but it’s perfect for us.”
Brettler worked with landscape designer Dee Paul to address the extensive grounds. “Family life was of the utmost importance in all of our design decisions,” explains Paul, who extended and leveled the front yard to create a lawn “where the boys can play soccer.” Paul also terraced the property’s grade with meandering pathways and private sitting areas and designed places to grow edibles as well as flowers.
“This is it,” says Brettler. “This is the compound. I have a vision of the kids being here with their kids, and we’ll all be hanging out together. I’ve told them I plan to live here forever. They’ll have to cart me out when I’m 100!”
—Mallery Roberts Morgan