Surprisingly, Brown Floral Velvet Is What Made This 1920s Home Fresh Again
Rich green window frames don’t hurt either.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:49 AM
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Even an established architect needs a little help in the home department sometimes. When Sherry McKuin, a modernist at heart, and her husband purchased a 1920s Spanish-style house in Los Angeles’s Holmby Hills neighborhood, she knew she needed the expertise of someone with a different point of view but the same appreciation of its original features. “We fell in love with the house because it has amazing curb appeal, and the elegant architecture and scale of the home had been preserved,” McKuin explains. “There are beautiful large windows in every room that look out to a spacious yard.”
Enter maximalist Frances Merrill. The founder of Reath Design has a breadth of knowledge in classic architecture, ranging from Colonial to Craftsman to Revival. Even better, windows are her specialty. “I need a bumper sticker that reads ‘Will work for dappled light,’” she jokes. Luckily, L.A. isn’t short on sunshine. By stripping back the overly ornate details and focusing instead on the gracious proportions and how the sun’s rays hit each room, she created a family home for McKuin, her husband, and their two children that makes the everyday feel romantic. Here’s how she got it done:
She Referenced the Past…
Merrill doesn’t turn to trends. She prefers looking at old books and magazines from other time periods so she can see how people lived in previous decades and reimagine those ideas for 21st-century life. In the kitchen, she kept the finishes timeless. Brass faucets, a curved white marble backsplash, glazed ceramic tiles, and plum linen sink skirts ensure that even though the flow of the space was undeniably modern, it looked like it could have been there for decades.
…But Made It Work for the 21st Century
Merrill wanted to treat the kitchen as a family room, but “when they were built in the 1920s, kitchens weren’t public spaces, so it didn’t flow that way,” she says. Undeterred, she brought in a cozy window banquette with emerald green velvet Sunbrella seats and converted the adjacent formal dining room into a cozy den for the kids.
She Peppered in Florals—With a Twist
A trio of vintage Togo seats in the new living space, found in Europe in their original brown floral velvet, was just the beginning of Merrill’s daring fabric choices. At the end of the room is a rose-hued lounge, which appears to glow from the inside out. At the heart of it: a curved sectional upholstered in a tobacco-colored botanical velvet from House of Hackney. “There’s something about old patterns and this rich color that gives the room depth,” she explains.
She Gave the Smallest Room the Biggest Personality
The powder room off the entryway got its own playful treatment with a leafy Cole & Son wallpaper, a vintage marble sink, and the pièce de résistance: a rainbow of glazed tiles. “It’s right off the front entrance and the door is always ajar,” explains Merrill. “So you get this little slice of fun bleeding out into the cleaner white spaces.”
She Created Continuity
No matter where you are in the house, the window frames are painted a deep hunter green. “Having this one rich hue everywhere gives the home a flow,” she explains. “I love color, but I hate when it’s jarring.”
She Made the Most of the Sunshine
The windows are lined with semi-sheer drapery to softly filter the light: soft ochre paisley in the kitchen, a warm flax linen in the bedrooms, and burnt orange in the den. For most people, curtains are simply a necessary component that ensures privacy when you want it and allows you to sleep in when the sun comes up. But for Merrill, they’re an opportunity to give each room its own mood. McKuin was skeptical at first, but it’s those details that are now her favorite part of the house.