This Family’s 1957 L.A. Home Makes the Case for Keeping an Unpopular Feature
They bought the gem sight unseen.
Published Jan 15, 2024 1:45 AM
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Silke Rumpelhardt felt a pang of anxiety as her Uber pulled up to her Los Angeles home late one night. This was the first time that she and her two daughters would be stepping foot inside the home they’d bought sight unseen three years ago (her husband, Matthias, was back home in Berlin). “I was like, Oh, my God, what if it’s all completely different?” Silke recalls thinking. It was so dark outside that it was difficult to see much of anything. “But the next morning, it was exactly as we pictured it.”
Silke and Matthias, who are both originally from the south of Germany, had never considered themselves “California dreamers.” If there was any place in the U.S. calling their names, it was New York City, where Silke had studied graphic design when she was 19. So, 20 years later, when the couple was given the opportunity to take a four-month-long sabbatical, they seriously considered Manhattan. “But the kids were so small that we thought, maybe we should look for something more relaxed,” she says. They rented a house in Santa Monica and learned that Los Angeles ticked a lot of boxes: It has an art scene, is easy to navigate with children, and is sunny. For the next four years, they casually started browsing Zillow and eventually—from thousands of miles away—placed an offer on a 1957 gem in Pacific Palisades.
A friend of Silke’s in L.A. quickly introduced her to Stephanie Hauptli, the principal designer of Hauptli Haus, who, having grown up in Switzerland, conveniently spoke German. But more important, Hauptli spoke Silke’s design language. “She completely understood me; we just worked very well as a team,” says Silke. Even without ever having been in the house, through Zoom calls and iPhone photos, Silke could see the soul in the original millwork; she told Hauptli not to touch the dark wood kitchen or bathroom cabinets. “Which really surprised me because most people come into a house and that’s the first thing they want to go,” says the designer. Even when Hauptli described the stubborn feeling of opening some of the drawers, Silke didn’t budge. “They don’t have the glide you get nowadays, and she still was like, ‘Yeah, I love it,’” recalls Hauptli.
What the designer did tackle was the countertops. Zellige tile, while an unconventional surface (the grout lines and bumps aren’t as easy to wipe down as, say, quartz), felt fresh but also like it could have been there all along. In two of the home’s three bathrooms, Hauptli paired the tile with wallpaper, creating a datum line partway up the wall to make the combo appear “a little less busy for the eye,” she says.
The five different flooring materials in the house also needed simplifying. Hauptli replaced them all with raw terracotta tile. Would it feel like a Mediterranean cliché? Silke wondered. “Terracotta doesn’t have the best image in Europe, at least if it’s new,” she says. But when she saw it in person for the first time, she realized it looked right at home.
The 1960s-inspired pink sofa, which Hauptli custom-designed to fit perfectly in a corner, is a typical gathering spot for the family when they’re in town. The color and the addition of the skirt checked off Silke’s request for something “a bit fun and fresh. It’s the mix of mid-century with opulent, eclectic [items] that makes the home’s style interesting,” says Silke. Although, inevitably Matthias gravitates toward the backyard to soak in the view. The outdoor space is just big enough to squeeze in a handful of cartwheels. “Since it is a small house, we hang together much more, which is really nice,” she adds.
The trust that Silke and Hauptli began to build from their very first Zoom call is so unshakeable that Hauptli is temporarily living in the house with her own family. “We moved back to L.A. from Washington, D.C., recently and are renting it right now until they come back for the summer,” says Hauptli. In the meantime, the couple has tasked the designer’s architect husband with building a swimming pool in the backyard. “We’ve become really good friends, and that doesn’t always happen on projects,” she adds.