Los Angeles has no shortage of stunning historic homes, though they’re often out-glossed by modern hillside perches that get big ratings on real estate reality shows. This 1930s English-cottage-style residence by architect H. Roy Kelley is too sophisticated for cat fights and tired plotlines, though it is a story about dramatic transformations.
“We loved the architecture, that’s what drew us to the house,” the wife says about the property in leafy Little Holmby. While the character and period details were alluring, the couple—native Angelenos with two young boys—discovered the house also had the holy grail of family living (and peacekeeping): green space. “We wanted a big backyard, and to find flat land in Los Angeles,” she says, leaving us to calculate the probability.
A design lover with a self-professed weakness for cool lighting, the client was flipping through a magazine when she landed on the Pacific Palisades residence of designer Alison Palevsky. It was the aesthetic she craved: contemporary and stylish, but also livable. Coincidentally, the couple and Palevsky share a common connection: The wife’s dear friend Randie Kleinman, a landscape designer who consulted on the gardens. Soon, Palevsky went from consulting on color to ushering in a chic revise that merged manor house with modern life. “The first thing I always look at when we start a project is the bones, the architecture,” says the designer, “because you can’t take something that’s in a certain architectural style and completely change it. You have to keep a little bit of what’s there and pay homage to it. So, the floor plan and style were dictated first by the architecture and then by the way they wanted to live.”
Imposing an open concept scheme on a vintage gem would be heavy handed. Instead, Palevsky let the spaces breathe. Her masterful edit blended vintage furnishings, custom pieces and modern variations that didn’t betray precedent. To establish a clean slate, the walls and knotty pine beams received coats of soft white paint with contrasting glossy black trim, a tailored nod to the 1920s and ’30s.
Palevsky selected urbane furnishings that didn’t assert formality but didn’t retreat from it either. Slinky custom pieces and a variety of seating areas dress the living room. The couple enjoys the space constantly, hosting friends or retreating after dinner to sit by the fireplace—a formerly massive presence the designer tamed with a crisp modern iteration in marble. The husband wanted a built-in bar for in the living room, but the wife initially resisted, citing bachelor pad vibes. Palevsky responded with a custom walnut and brass creation. “It’s more of an elegant piece of furniture,” she explains.
The clients’ growing art collection, a particular passion of the husband’s, deserved elevated surroundings. An art collector herself, Palevsky embraced the chromatic works by Julio Le Parc, John Baldessari and Adam Henry. One large, colorful piece by Max Steven Grossman in the dining room depicts the ultimate curated shelfie. “The goal was to achieve this balance between old and new,” she says, noting the 1960s Murano chandelier and edited furnishings in the space. “The vintage chairs are from a similar period and the overdyed Persian rug feels young and hip because it’s a modern take, but it adds a textual component.”
The wife’s dream kitchen, featuring a generous waterfall island and breakfast nook, required a complete overhaul. She worked with Jesse Harrison, principal of Harrison Design, on the plans, and then Palevsky infused it with her own touches. “This is where my story blended with Alison’s,” says the wife of the space. “I wanted it to feel youthful, I didn’t want the traditional white kitchen.” A blend of blue-gray cabinetry and brass accents assure it isn’t.
A separate family entry just off the kitchen was created by general contractor Mike Khudir of Century West Construction. From the hall, the eye is drawn to the green oasis outside. The kids are either outdoors or on the plush sectional in the sunny family room, a favorite gathering area. Palevsky assembled it with just a few key pieces in a clean palette like the rest of the home, calibrating it to suit a hip couple and a modern family that happens to live in a stately residence. “I’m comfortable with the role of being the editor and curator of the house, helping create their vision. Everyone has great ideas, pulling them out is the hardest part—it’s about not incorporating every good idea you’ve ever had into one space,” the designer says, turning to the wife. “She tells me a story, I help illustrate it and then we do our thing and we transform it and then she and her family live it.”