This Designer Went Against Realtors’ Advice When Renovating Her L.A. Home
Natural light and cozy corners over big closets.
Published Nov 12, 2021 2:23 AM
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Ruthie Sommers’s dream home doesn’t have a massive screening room or a double-island kitchen. The Los Angeles designer, former Domino cover star, and newly minted author (her book, A Newport Summer, comes out next May), prefers towering trees and secret reading nooks over fancy amenities and loads of square footage. “A lot of my clients want big bathrooms and walk-in closets for their kids, but the children always end up in their parents’ bathtub anyway,” she says, laughing. After seeing how fast her friends’ kids grew up, Sommers made a point to prioritize natural light and cozy corners when designing the L.A. home she and her family of five shared for 14 years. “I’m always secretly happy when my girls are close to me, so I enjoy being in a small area,” adds the designer. “Space doesn’t equal happiness.”
While Sommers and her husband, Luke McDonough, decided to sell the property this summer and put down more permanent roots in Colorado, she looks back on the day they first toured the Hancock Park home with fondness. “I walked two feet into the driveway and said, ‘I have to have it. This is my house,’” recalls Sommers. The tree-lined driveway instantly reminded her of the University of Virginia’s leafy campus (her alma mater). “And then it turned out, within four hours, 11 offers had been made,” she says. So Sommers got personal with the seller: “I said, ‘I’m not going to tear out your bonsai trees or your yuccas. I’m not going to increase the footprint. I just really want this for my family.’” The next day, she received a call saying they got it.
It took more than a decade for Sommers to commit to the renovation, until her three daughters were craving their own bedrooms. Staying true to her word, the designer didn’t tack on 1,000 square feet to the side of the house, even though partway through she knew they would be putting it on the market. “I kept designing the house the way I would want to live in it,” she explains. She opted out of big bedroom closets because she found that the pandemic caused her to purge belongings, not collect more stuff. And she didn’t carve out a walk-in pantry because she prefers to cook with fresh ingredients out of the fridge when possible.
“Two-thirds of the way through the renovation, real-estate agents were coming in to tour the home and telling me I would not make the money I needed. ‘Where’s your screening room? Where’s your this and your that?’ I was like, ‘I’m not going against my will,’” recalls Sommers. And she was right: The 4,100-square-foot home turned out to be worth a cool $8 million.
Her selling points? A sun-drenched, arched walkway that opens to a formal living room with herringbone oak floors. Nearby, there’s a dining room with a peaked cathedral ceiling and French doors on three sides leading to outdoor spaces. While Sommers assumes most people would stick a cloudlike sofa and a big TV in this room, the panoramic view trumps all.
“I just thought, I’d much rather get that natural light and that energy in an entertaining space,” she explains. Painting the walls blush pink made the gathering spot all the more special (Sommers credits Jeffrey Bilhuber for the color inspiration). The brick for the flooring was shipped from Virginia, and she stole the sconces from the front of the house and painted them. “This is a house for 2030,” says the designer. “The trees, the nature, the privacy—there’s nothing like this in Hancock Park.”
Not having any TVs in the house meant that Sommers could play around with seating. “The truth is, most of us really watch things on our iPads around the kitchen table,” she says. With no big black boxes dictating which way the sofa has to go, there’s a lot more flexibility for nooks, like the upholstered bench area in the corner of the living room that features a hand-painted de Gournay wallpaper.
“The last few nights we had the house, when I would leave, I would hug the trees,” she adds. “That last time, I felt like I heard one of them say, ‘You forgot me.’” An arborist she had hired to come and check on the grounds during the construction gave her comforting advice that stuck with her at the very end: “The best thing he said to me was that the true root of generosity is letting go.”