Frame Of Reference
Architect Birgit Hansen renovates gallery owner Karyn Lovegrove's 1920's Los Angeles house to showcase her current artistic passions
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 8/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
We last left Karyn Lovegrove and Peter Leak—she a Los Angeles art dealer, he a music manager for Dido and Martha Wainright—at their Los Feliz home, heavy on racy paintings and photography. Four years and two children later, we're catching up with the power couple in their new digs, where Lovegrove and Hansen Design put their renovation prowess into play on a far grander scale. This time around, the house is a 1924 Italianate villa in gracious Hancock Park.
Lovegrove and Leak were smitten with the sweeping staircase, the baronially thick walls, and an expansive ground floor begging to be filled with a smart, smartly dressed crowd at the couple's monthly dinner parties. However, some spaces were badly laid out, especially for today's family living, and others were too small. Not until the dining room absorbed the nearby breakfast room, butler's pantry, bathroom, and side stairwell would there be space to gracefully accommodate Roy McMakin's 18-foot-long oak table, brought from the Los Feliz house. What's more, the modest kitchen had just one door leading to the courtyard—which, inconceivably, was entirely concrete. Not a bit of green. Also facing the courtyard was an underutilized loggia, now Lovegrove's cozy home office. As for the second floor, ungainly built-in cupboards blocked the windows, and cramped bathrooms exhibited a dizzying array of tile patterns.
So Lovegrove and architect Birgit Hansen embarked on a two-year process to set things straight. "We took the house apart and put it back together," Lovegrove says. As Hansen explains, "The major challenge was to undo the damage from two previous remodels and bring the house into the 21st century." Basically, all 8,600 square feet were edited and simplified—to the point that this undeniably traditional house now appears downright contemporary.
Walls are white. Flooring is dark-stained oak. Kitchen counters and the entire master bathroom are gleaming Calacatta marble. Window treatments are simple panels of lush velvet, differing in color for each bedroom: eggshell for the master, burnt orange for Lovegrove and Leak's son's bedroom, raspberry for their daughter's. There's some pop to the rigorous backdrop, though. The sunroom's wallpaper, for example, was commissioned from two artists shown by the Karyn Lovegrove Gallery. They created a brilliant red-and-blue silk screen that all but vibrates behind Maarten Baas's emerald-green clay-covered side chair.
Then there's Lovegrove and Hansen's obsession with details. Most rooms have not a single recessed ceiling fixture; they're lit instead by chandeliers. An Italian 1920's white porcelain example appears in the dining room, while new ones by David Wiseman—a crystal globe and a delicate bronze-and-porcelain branch—turn up in the living room and a vestibule, respectively. Heating and air-conditioning, part of a systems overhaul, come up through vents in the floor. Back in the dining room, Hansen recessed the arched windows to underscore the 1-foot thickness of the concrete wall. White-painted baseboard moldings are consistent throughout. Ditto for the height of light switches. And it's no accident that the master bathroom's rain showerhead lines up perfectly with a pair of French 1920's porcelain sinks.
But for all the effort and expense, the project is really about "creating a stage for art and the other things we collect," Lovegrove relates. Some of them look familiar from Los Feliz. The living room's McMakin sofas, once in tomato red, now sport a sunny yellow velvet "totally inspired by Italy," she notes. Upstairs and down, assorted McMakin tables and lamps come from the old house, too.
Compared to the Los Feliz era, art has taken another direction entirely. No more hot-and-heavy couple in Nan Goldin's photograph or Thomas Ruff's image derived from Internet porn—they wouldn't sit well with the preschool-parent crowd. Lovegrove adds, "Since this house is so masculine, I went with feminine pieces. Fantastical, emotive, and otherworldly are what interest me now." And being counterintuitive. Rather than mount big statement pieces on the expansive walls, she hung smaller work, lending an air of intimacy. One installation in the living room consists of a trio of small acrylic paintings set against a fanciful forest drawn directly on the wall with a black Sharpie marker.
The birds in the master bedroom's pencil drawing by Karen Kilimnik seem to take flight above a lighter-than-air bench with clear acrylic legs and white tufted velvet upholstery. In the dining room, another Kilimnik drawing features a young girl with bubble gum. Lovegrove lent the latter to Philadelphia's Institute of Contemporary Art in 2007 for the artist's first U.S. survey.