When architect and designer Emily Farnham and her husband, writer-director Jeremy Konner, started house hunting in Los Angeles, their only criteria was that the property be a good old-fashioned ﬁxer-upper. After years working for large ﬁrms on ventures like the Jeremy Hotel, Los Angeles Federal Courthouse, and civic buildings and campuses, Farnham was ready to launch her own practice—and the home they were looking for would be her ﬁrst project.
It didn’t take long for a 1904 California bungalow in Elysian Heights to catch her eye. Similar designs are dotted around the neighborhood, among the beautiful old ﬁcus and avocado trees and steep, narrow streets. “We knew it was the one when we saw it online,” she explains. “We didn’t even have to visit, but of course we did.”
They discovered that the 1,238-square-foot space had been modiﬁed over the years and awkwardly carved up, but the important parts—like the original front windows—were still intact. “It was just calling out to be made cohesive again,” Farnham recalls. Once they were in escrow, she gave notice at her office and got to work, taking the lessons learned from bigger projects and applying them to their new home.
“I always honor the context of an existing place. I don’t try to dress it up as something it’s not,” says Farnham, who recently collaborated with Sarah Sherman Samuel for actress Mandy Moore’s major mid-century undertaking in Pasadena. “But when we gutted our house and saw it all as one giant room, I have to admit it was tempting to leave things open,” she notes. “That’s a trend you see a lot, but it’s not always right for the space.”
Instead, she opted for one wall to help deﬁne two big rooms—an entry/living room and a dining/kitchen area—which also became the perfect surface for displaying treasured artworks by friends and photographs of the couple’s now-2-year-old son, George.
The next challenge: While the home had loads of charm, it had zero storage. “I have tons of books on design, and Jeremy has lots on comedy and history, so we knew we’d need a large library,” says Farnham.
To make sure there was room for everything and then some, she added an artery running down the center of the entire house that starts as a drop zone by the front door, grows to a two-story bookshelf as it passes into the dining room, and becomes a full-height pantry in the kitchen. “People always say our kitchen feels huge, but in reality it’s tiny. The views are what make it look spacious inside,” she says.
With storage sorted, she was able to use the area normally reserved for upper cabinets as windows. And to add even more airiness, she raised the ceiling in the dining room all the way to the rafters, doubling the height: “I asked my good friend Heather Levine to make a custom ﬁxture that mounts almost at the rooﬂine and hangs very low over the dining table. I love the way her piece engages with the space.”
Nowhere does the bungalow give off big-house attitude more than in the vestibule. “It might sound crazy to have a vestibule in a small home, but I really wanted there to be a bit of separation between the bedrooms and the kitchen,” explains the architect. She shrunk down the scale even more, so that the master bedroom and nursery wouldn’t open right to the kitchen. “The new sight lines really make everything feel more private,” she says, “and even improved the acoustics.”
And just when it seems like there couldn’t be another square inch—let alone square foot—to work with, the ever-resourceful Farnham is considering going underground for the next stage of her dream project.
“We’re on a hillside, so the space I have planned would get plenty of light and open up onto a citrus garden. We could entertain into the night without waking up George!” There’s always room for expansion.
Find Your Base
Farnham starts looking at a space as a sculptural form—no material, no color—then layers in the personality. That way, she says, “it’s easier to make bold decisions on decor and furnishings.”
All the Feels
“Anything you’re going to touch is worth spending money on, so hardware and handles are important,” explains Farnham, who splurged on giant wooden knobs from Australia-based Interia for her cabinetry.
Tricks of the Trade
Just because it’s usable space doesn’t mean it’s user friendly. Sacriﬁcing a sitting area inside the master bedroom meant Farnham could have a bigger master bathroom and a walk-in closet.
Start With Art
“For me, it just feels backward to pick a piece of art because it matches my decor,” Farnham says, “but I won’t hesitate to reupholster furniture to match the art!”
“If something can be done simpler, with fewer steps or materials, it probably should be,” notes Farnham, a self-described minimalist when it comes to construction detailing.
Shop the look:
01 Hanging Lamp, Heather Levine
Simone Flat-Weave Rug, Aelfie, from $89
Large Low Bowl, Nickey Kehoe, $170
Tiles, Heath Ceramics
Georgia Daybed, Consort Home, $3,000
The Dots Hooks, Muuto
Brass Salt Mill, Sunday Shop, $80
San Rafael Safari Stool, The Citizenry, $375
Kilim Pillow, Sunday Shop, $135
#350 Round Boxed Edge Pillow, Highland House Furniture, $300
This story originally appeared in the summer 2018 issue with the headline “Small Wonder.”