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“I’ve got to at least have a kitchen,” Brandy Joy Smith told her husband, Tyler, and their interior designer, Jessie Tate, last summer. They were in the midst of renovating their Culver City, California, home (a process that ended up taking a whole lot longer than expected due to the pandemic), and Smith was nine months pregnant with the couple’s second child. “We moved in two days before I gave birth,” she recalls. The main bedroom was still under construction at that point (they decided to tack on an extra 250 square feet), but they finished the kids’ rooms and the kitchen, complete with a spacious island, in the nick of time. “The lesson here is do not move or remodel when you’re pregnant,” says Smith.
Aside from the tight timing, the couple’s stress levels were low given they’re seasoned remodelers at this point (they’ve got three projects under their belt so far and another in the works in Joshua Tree). Even when Smith was on bed rest for six months, she used her free 15 minutes of walking-around time to visit the space or pick out finishes with Tate via FaceTime. Their first goal: Achieve a sense of flow—something they accomplished by opening up the walls on the first floor, simplifying the “wildly oversize and grandiose” fireplace mantel, and adding French doors leading to the backyard. Step two? A gorgeous (and very necessary) kitchen makeover, plus a few other updates.
Define Too-Plain Cabinets
The couple got rid of a breakfast nook that made the kitchen feel chopped up and opted for a streamlined island for casual seating instead. Smith envisioned modern white cabinets, but thought super-flat doors in a neutral hue have the tendency to look cheap, even if they aren’t. Her solution was to add a thin border around the cupboards (slimmer than your standard Shaker-style rails and stiles). “The detail made it a little bit special,” she says. Baby bottles and plates are stowed away behind closed doors, but open shelves were incorporated to hold some of Smith’s more attractive tchotchkes and dishes.
Double Up on Lighting
The main bedroom was originally located upstairs, but wanting to be on the same level as their children, the couple decided to add on to a smaller bedroom downstairs and turn that into their personal en suite. They also saw the extra square footage as a long-term investment. “It’s the number-one thing to getting more value out of your home,” explains Smith. Inspired by one of their friend’s places in Brooklyn, they built a ledge out of drywall behind the bed, where they can lean artwork or place a glass of water. “We’ve never been big headboard people,” she says with a laugh.
Having multiple sources of ambient lighting was Tate’s idea. “It offers different moods within a space, and in a bedroom I think that’s incredibly important,” she says. The designer marked where all the furniture would go and measured the placement of the ’80s plaster pendant lights (a Facebook Marketplace score) precisely so that they wouldn’t look so cramped next to nightstand lamps. “It’s a grand, open space with high ceilings,” says Tate, which helped the whole arrangement work in the end.
Squeeze In Your Dream Amenities
The location of the new bathroom was convenient in that it shared a wall with their son’s bathroom, meaning they could “steal” from that plumbing and didn’t have to add a bunch of new pipes. This, however, limited the footprint. To visually elongate the narrow space, the couple opted for floor-to-ceiling glass shower panels. Two barriers were necessary to keep the water contained, as they didn’t have enough square footage to tilt the flooring for a seamless drain system.
Smith requested a gap between the vanity sinks so she can pull up a stool when she’s doing her makeup. “My husband said, “You can have the chair, but that means you have to take the far-right side, because I’m not walking behind you every time I have to get ready,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘Okay, that’s a good trade-off!”” The storage unit is actually floating, but the arched iron legs from Swedish brand Pretty Pegs make it look like a piece of furniture.
Play the Bench
Their biggest save was the faux concrete fireplace mantel. The real deal would have required hiring a separate contractor to install special bracing in the wall. Tate, feeling inspired by the traditional Moroccan technique of tadelakt, was the one who suggested faking the look by coating a drywall ledge in Venetian plaster, saving the couple (and potential buyers) hundreds of dollars. “It’s easily reversible if they sell the property down the line and the next owners want to utilize the space in a different way,” says the designer.
Tate and Smith landed on a product called San Marco by Concrete Art for the job. “It was definitely trial and error,” says Smith, who tackled the application part herself. She started out with shorter strokes but then realized after the first layer that larger ones gave off a more natural look and feel. Three layers of plaster paint later, they applied two layers of sealer.
Bonus: The hollow ledge doubles as seating. “I also love how it removed the need to have the TV take center stage in the room,” says Tate.
Another major budget win was going with engineered wood flooring from Floor and Decor over real hardwood. The key was opting for wider planks (they look more high-end). “They’re solid and heavy, and don’t feel cheap in any way,” says Smith. Also: They’re easy to install, cutting the cost of labor.
Mix White Furniture and Kids (Yes, You Can!)
To soften up some of the modern matte black elements in the home, Tate brought in linen roman shades and had the contractors create custom boxes to hide the mounting hardware. As for the other textiles in the home, she wasn’t afraid of warm neutrals, even if Smith was hesitant at first. “Brandy jokes that I like to push white furniture on parents,” says Tate. A comforting fact: You can always bleach cotton. The couple balanced out some of the more precious upholstery with hardy handwoven rugs, including a high-pile carpet for their baby daughter’s room that’s comfy to crawl on.
Impress Thy Neighbor
The accent tiles for the front porch and steps were an investment in curb appeal. “With a large porch and side patio, we needed a visual accent to break up all the ground tile,” says Smith. The option they found from the Cement Tile Shop called Atlas IV tied the two exterior paint colors (Benjamin Moore’s Swiss Coffee is the main hue; the door is Black Magic by Sherwin-Williams) together. The pair also replaced the fence that surrounds the 10,000-square-foot lot with Cumara wood. “With a little dog and two kids, I don’t want to ever worry,” says Smith. “It was worth every penny.”
Photography by Zachary Gray
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