For years, homeowners Stephen and Julie Block had had their eyes on a vintage house in Los Angeles. Its appeal lay in its Spanish Colonial Revival style, its garden and its location within a prized school district. Once it came back on the market, recalls Stephen, “We had to compete against three other bids but our resolve to buy the home was unwavering,” and the residence was finally theirs.
The couple was undeterred by the restoration work it required and knew they could rely not only on their own talents (Stephen is the owner of Inner Gardens and has created some of the city’s most beautiful landscapes, while Julie is a stylist and costume designer for television) but also on help from longtime friends like designer Kathryn M. Ireland. “I love designing houses,” she says remembering Stephen’s proposal.
“We have similar styles, and I really like his sensibility. Plus, he loves color.” The couple also brought on residential designer and restoration specialist Odom Stamps and general contractor Donald L. Hanover. “We had original elements like the front doors and hardware, but the house really was just a mess,” says Stephen.
So, the design team restored what they could and added what they needed. “Only the entry has remained the same. Its beautiful homage is what attracted us to begin with–the original doors and railings,” says Julie. Adds Stamps: “The house had great bones, but we wanted to be respectful. We added on from the middle to the back of the house, opening up spaces and enclosing an upstairs balcony. Stephen had great ideas and we could riff off each other.” They strove to make the new kitchen and the addition of some 1,500 square feet feel as if it had always been there. “I love extrapolating ideas from the original architecture,” says the residential designer, noting their efforts to duplicate doors and hardware and to bring in new tile surfaces in keeping with the history of the home.
The homeowners also incorporated some elements from their former house into the new dwelling. “We made sure to keep all the vintage lighting we’d found,” Stephen shares. Other items they bought and lived with for a while–sometimes keeping them, like the living room sofas, and sometimes letting them go, like an antique dining table they replaced with a more contemporary design. And that’s the very ethos of this house: It’s a family home that must evolve and adapt to the changing needs of the Blocks and their three daughters.
“We wanted it set up casually,” says Stephen of the interiors, highlighting the family room as a prime example of the feel they wanted to create. With its French doors, comfy sofa, Arts and Crafts chandelier–one of Julie’s finds on an excursion in Pasadena–bookcases and television, it’s really where the family lives. The nearby living room is a bit more formal with a pair of neutral-hued sofas, vintage pottery and antiques like the carved angel Bountiful in Venice (in a twist of fate, the owner introduced Stephen to Julie). “We are big supporters of each others likes and style sensibilities,” says Julie. “My taste is always evolving. It currently leans toward modern while Stephen’s is more primitive. We overlap like a Venn diagram.” For his part, Stephen is responsible for the Asian pieces dotted throughout the house. “That’s all me!” he says excitedly, and recounts a trip to China in 1996 that opened his eyes to ancient work, especially ceramics.
And while the Blocks’ tastes might vary, they converge at a certain point–specifically at Ireland’s colorful, patterned textiles. “I brought Kathryn in because we’ve been friends for years–she’s just crazy good, generous and fabulous,” says Stephen. “I think we met doing a show house 15 years ago,” Ireland says. “Stephen’s so easy to work with. He’ll be planting and I’ll be hanging curtains–we roll up our sleeves,” she says. The Blocks share Ireland’s appreciation for comfort and color, so it’s the designer’s cheerful prints that fill nearly every room in the house. “Working with Kathryn is always a blast,” says Julie, adding that they often brainstorm over dinner. A mood-lifting range of yellows, greens and reds–Ireland’s signature color–can be seen on upholstered pieces, throw pillows and curtains. “You have to have window treatments!” Ireland says.
The colorful textiles continue upstairs in the girls’ rooms and in the couple’s master suite (part of the addition accessed by the now-enclosed balcony, which Stephen is currently eyeing as a conservatory). Pink hues dominate the space, which includes a custom bed from Indigo Seas and a bathroom fitted with a Barbara Barry vanity.
Stephen, not surprisingly, focused on the garden, which now boasts some of his favorite plantings: camellias, hydrangeas, staghorn ferns, agaves, philodendrons and Eden roses. Tall hedges screen the property and gravel walkways remind him of trips to Europe. “I love the crunch sound,” he says. There are antiques but also sentimental pieces, like a trio of heart-shaped pavers he discovered in Texas that reminded him of his daughters. “This house is eclectic,” he says, “but it’s heartfelt.”