Willson recalls his initial reaction to the property, which he discovered on a real estate walk-through, as “love at first site.” The 2,200-square-foot home, complete with a two-bedroom maids’ quarters, still inhabited its original footprint, with a dining room, living room, and kitchen flanking an interior courtyard.
She gave my partner, David, an old photograph from the LA Times, which detailed the story of the house and who had built it,” says Robert Willson, an antiques dealer and proprietor with David Serrano of the trendsetting LA furnishings showroom Downtown. “We never figured out who she was. And we never saw her again.” The mysterious visitor signaled an auspicious new life for the home, a streamlined modern structure originally built by a contractor and his wife. A wall in the master bedroom showcases a grouping of 19th-century paintings. For an unexpected pop of color, Serrano added the lacquer to the legs of the 1920s chairs. The Gilt table is 19th-century Venetian with a faux marble painted top.
The property also had period terrazzo floors, glass tile in the bathroom and kitchen, curving walls, and glass block accents. “It really spoke to me because it hadn’t been touched and still was in its original condition,” Willson says. The floating cabinet in the master bathroom was rebuilt in zebrawood, while the tub and lighted mirrors are restored originals.
Serrano and Willson set about painstakingly restoring many of the original details including the steel casement windows, which had been painted shut. The owners tapped an artisan who had repaired the windows for the famed Kaufmann House in Palm Springs; he stripped the windows and rebuilt all the mechanisms. The home’s two flush-mount lighting fixtures were re-created from scratch, and the hardware and handles were restored and replated. Two 1930s tub chairs by Gilbert Rohde flank one of Willson's favorite pieces, the Cleopatra daybed from AR Cordemeijer. Serrano designed the ceruse oak box chair and the low, upholstered folding screen, which features a design in nailheads that includes the partners' initials.
Another period element, the “broomed” walls, where an actual broom is used to add texture to plaster, were replastered and rebroomed throughout the house. With the help of Bohl Architects, the curvaceous kitchen cabinets were rebuilt and topped with a 14-foot-long stainless steel countertop that had to be hoisted through a window. All the glass tile was updated in contemporary colors from Ann Sacks. New linoleum was rolled on the floor to replace the original. The 1960s chandelier is by Sergio Asti.
The custom stainless steel sink, designed by Willson, pays homage to the kitchen's curves.
The old chamber stove still holds court in the kitchen, where Willson, a former chef, prefers it to the contemporary stainless steel one he installed. “The old one just heats better,” he says.
While the interiors pay homage to the past, they are hardly set in amber. Willson and Serrano often give the spaces a fresh and playful twist. For example, a ladies’ fur closet, which had been upholstered in satin, was recovered in a glamorous satin stripe and finished with nailheads. Though the home’s floor plan remains the same, the maids’ quarters are now used as a guest cottage and the second bedroom functions as a library.
On this historic canvas, Serrano and Willson layer furnishings and artwork from their own vast collections, making the home truly their own. “A lot of people are afraid of decorating on top of furniture. But we are maximalists,” Willson says. “It’s about finding ways of expressing yourself through objects. It’s what makes a house a home.” And while many of the pieces give a nod to the home’s historic sensibility, they are not restricted to the 1930s. The home contains an array of 1950s European furniture, stacks of design books, original artwork, and the one-of-a-kind curiosities that the showroom Downtown is known for. Standout pieces span cultures and periods, from the contemporary Balloona table by Natalie Kruch to a tiny mirror made from a piece of designer Line Vautrin’s own jewelry to a stunning Chinese folding screen. The dining room features an early 20th-century Chinese Coromandel screen and a framed 19th-century Belgian target.
In the living room, a painted leather 19th-century English side chair sits alongside a Charles Dudouyt ceruse oak French cabinet.
Brimming with colorful collections of ties, belts, and shoes, the bedroom showcases Willson and Serrano's distinctive layered look.
An assemblage in the living room includes a Chinese ribbon table, Line Vautrin mirrors, a copper box in the shape of a rhinoceros by Onik Agaronyan, and a 1917 portrait by Henri Ottevaere.
A stone and water garden has replaced the front lawn.
The stone garden features vintage statues and koi ponds to complete the tranquil feeling throughout the property.
Having seen the home through multiple iterations, Willson looks forward to future years in Brookside. “A lot of people make a lot of money by selling homes and moving on to the next,” he says. “But I like my house. It is enough.”
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