At Home in Silver Lake
An interior designer and her filmmaker partner renovated and restored this 1925 Spanish Revival find from top-to-bottom — allowing its vintage aesthetics to shine anew.
Words: Kelly Phillips Badal
Images: Alexa Miller
Interior designer Angela Asbury wasn’t immediately smitten with her 1925 Spanish Revival fixer-upper, but her partner, filmmaker Kathlyn Horan, fell head-over-heels nearly instantly. “Being from the south, I love old homes. I think I’m just about 150 years old inside,” Kathlyn grins. “And this is a very romantic house.”
Her passion won Angela over. That, and the fact that the property‘s original architectural bones and period details were intact—a.k.a., “it hadn’t been ruined,” both Angela and Kathlyn love to say of their home with satisfaction. It’s unusual for a home that’s more than 90 years old to have just two previous owners, but this one did. As a result, “no one had come in and stripped it of its character, which happens so often,” says Angela. But it was desperately in need of some basic updates and a fresh set of eyes. And once she dug in to the renovation, Angela fell head-over-heels herself.
It took eight months to transform the house, and every room received a carefully-considered refresh. The original narrow-plank red oak floors were refinished, likely for the first time ever. Central air and heat were added, though Angela preserved the vintage heat registers inlaid in the floor. Several doors and a few unnecessary walls were removed. The dated kitchen was gutted and reimagined, so too was the entire backyard. A small breakfast nook shifted to an open office for Angela; Kathlyn took over a detached teahouse in the backyard for hers. Lighting was updated everywhere. And oddly, Angela discovered along the way that there was no real front door to the house — just front French doors and an unused door that led to the breakfast nook — so she found an old door and had a frame made.
In short, a lot of changes were made — but none that changed the original nature of the home. “I wanted to bring the house to a different level and make it a little more current, but at the same time I love old things, I love vintage,” says Angela. “I wanted any changes I made to honor the integrity of the architecture.”
What were your first impressions of this house?
Angela: I absolutely loved the living room, with its big window. That window is everything. With the view here [out to Hollywood and beyond], it’s almost as if you’re in Italy. And I love old homes, so I can see past their issues — and I could see the potential in the house. But the master bedroom originally felt very dark to me, and then the yard had potted plants everywhere. I just thought, can I really dig my teeth into this? But this house was the right call. The basic architecture of this house is so elegant — the cabinets, the woodwork.
Kathlyn: This was an unusual home, so different from everything else we’d looked at in the area. There are so many places where everything is mid-century — and I like mid-century, but it looks like the same people have gone in again and again and redone everything; everything looks the same. This was something that different, and that interested me. And the energy of it was good. I’m not a super-spiritual person, but this did seem like such a clean and calm space.
What’s your style — and how did that influence the restoration and renovation of your home?
Angela: I’m eclectic. I like tradition, originality, and good design. My rule is, let the architecture be, add a few modern pieces, and play with that mix. You don’t want everything to be old and worn out — though I could probably do that and love that. There has to be a balance between soft and hard and new and old in a home.
What changes did you make that you’re especially pleased with?
Angela: Between my office, the kitchen, the laundry room, and the entryway to the backyard, we just opened up the whole space. We moved the door from the breakfast nook and made it the door to the backyard. Then we gutted the kitchen. Everything’s new, from the fridge to the stove. We used soapstone countertops and encaustic cement tile and kept the wallpaper from my office — Timorous Beasties’ Decouper 1 — going in here too. I love the way the tones compliment each other: The wallpaper’s paper bag color and the blue-green hue of Farrow and Ball’s Blue Black are a nice combination.
I also had the painters paint our new kitchen cabinets with brushes because I wanted them to look old. I wanted to see those brushstrokes, just like if they’d been painted several times. It gives them a certain depth — you don’t even realize it when you’re looking at them, but it makes a difference.
You initially saw the master bedroom as problematic — too dark, no en-suite bathroom, a tiny closet. How did you solve those design issues?
Angela: There were French doors and a big built-in cabinet in the master bedroom — we took out both to open it up, and that made all the difference in the world. We put bookshelves around the windows and closets. Neither this bedroom nor our guest bedroom had a bathroom attached when they built the house, because in 1925 you didn’t do that. So we took the linen cupboard and made it into a nice bathroom with a window.
What about outdoors in your backyard and garden? What changes did you make?
Angela: In the garden, the brick and the fountain were there, but all the plants were in pots — so we basically gutted the garden and replanted. We added orange, lemon, and plum trees and raised bed gardens. The garden is Kathlyn’s baby. She’s grown cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, and a lot of different squash that we’ve eaten. And there’s a little area outside our bedroom window that’s become our succulent garden — we just keep adding little plants. There’s also a greenhouse on the property where the previous owners kept orchids.
How did you meet your Compass agent, Boni Bryant, and how did she help you throughout the buying process?
Angela: We were introduced to Boni through friends who had worked with her. I wanted somebody experienced in this area [East Los Angeles], and she knows what she’s doing over here. We just clicked, too. Boni is so easy to work with, calm, and casual — and she’s got a great sense of humor. We always felt like she had our backs. When we found this house, Kathlyn and I really connected with the previous owner, Richard, and he liked Boni as well. I think it also helped that Boni had a relationship with the listing agent. Our offer was under asking, though — and there were definitely other offers — so Boni advised us to write a letter.
Since your offer was under the asking price, what do you think tipped things in your favor?
Angela: I think the letter was it. When we wrote it, we talked about what we were going to do to the house very honestly. I think people get very attached to their homes, I’m sensitive to that. So we talked about how we’d update the house, how we weren’t going to eliminate the integrity of the architecture, and that we loved it as it was. We talked about how we wanted a vegetable garden, how Kathlyn would grow the vegetables that we would cook and eat and how I would arrange the flowers — we got romantic with it.
It is really hard to get a house in Silver Lake unless you go way over asking and offer cash. I did have a good down payment from selling my previous house in the Pacific Palisades, so I had a little more to put down— I did 30% instead of 20% — so I think that helped, too.
After the offer was accepted, rest of the process was so seamless. I’ve owned a lot of different homes, and it’s usually so stressful. With Boni and her group, it was easy. Buying this house was really, really easy. It’s shocking, looking back. And Boni still checks in with us. I’ve consulted with her about some of our choices with the house, just to make sure we make smart decisions for resale — not that we’re thinking about selling anytime soon!