When This L.A. Homeowner Couldn’t Raise Her Ceilings, She Lowered the Floor
The sunken living room has the grooviest vibes.
Published Apr 28, 2023 1:36 AM
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When Geraldine Chung started house hunting in Los Angeles in 2012, it took nine months before she would find what would become her mid-century home—one of at least 50 that she looked at—in the city’s Mar Vista neighborhood. It wasn’t by a famous architect, and it was just 1,750 square feet, but the vibes were, as they say, immaculate.
“It immediately had this amazing energy,” says Chung, the owner of an equally good-feeling shop, LCD (short for Lust, Covet, Desire) in Venice Beach. That said, it would need a few tweaks before it would have the “modern zen” look she wanted. “I always imagined I’d get married, and [my husband and I] would have this dream house; you know, that standard Disney Princess trope,” she says with a laugh. “And then I was like: You know what? I don’t have to wait for someone to build me my dream house. I’m going to do it myself.”
The first order of business? Raising the 10-foot ceilings to make the ranch’s modest size feel a little airier. But when Chung found out that the placement of the beams would only allow her 8 more inches of clearance—and for the cool price of $40,000—she swerved: “That’s when I was like, if we can’t go up, let’s go down.”
So under the guidance of designers Kristin Korven and Jeff Kaplon, Chung chose to dig a conversation pit, a feature she had always admired in other homes but never thought she could actually have in her own. Turns out, her house was raised to begin with, and carving out the hangout zone was relatively easy. Plus it only ended up costing her $10,000, a quarter of what raising the ceiling would have cost.
Now it’s a carpeted cozy spot for friends (and her two dogs, Frankie and Millie) to hang out—for a little while at least. “People instantly go to the pit because they’ve never sat in one before,” she says. “But then they get pounced on by my dogs, who want to kiss their face for 20 minutes, so they get up right away.” Has anyone ever fallen into the pit? “Not yet, and don’t jinx me!”
Even though the loungy spot is a huge focus of the space, Chung made sure to keep it in muted tones. “I wanted a neutral background where the art could shine and where I could put cool furniture and great textiles,” she says. Speaking of, she has arranged her collection, which she started back when she lived in New York, right there above the sofa, and it includes a Shaniqwa Jarvis photograph in an ornate gold frame and a massive Jonas Wood print of a potted flower. An Eny Lee Parker table lamp (the designer is a friend) illuminates the whole thing.
From the pit, there are direct views into the kitchen, another big part of the seven-month renovation, which included adding a terrazzo backsplash, bright white cabinets, a marble toe-kick that continues on the island, and one massive cylindrical hood in the center. You can walk right onto the patio from there; the original 1950s sliding glass doors were delightfully low profile and in good shape, so she kept them.
The previous owners transformed the garage into a primary bedroom, and Chung didn’t alter the concrete floors, which had already been painted white. “I’ve kept it pretty bare so that it’s easy for me to fall asleep and there aren’t any distractions,” she says.
The attached bathroom, however, needed an overhaul. In came a skylight and out went the Home Depot builder-grade cabinets. The pink terrazzo and marble toe-kick mimic the kitchen, along with streamlined cabinets. (Though Chung says if she could do it all again, she’d have added drawers to the lower ones.) To bring in some asymmetry, she included a countertop cabinet that acts as a linen closet and has a sconce attached to its side.
Despite all the big changes, Chung is surprised how much even small parts of the design process could bring her joy, like splurging for custom vent covers: “It’s just not something you really think about that much, but then when you have it, you’re like, I’m never going back to a normal vent.”
And while there are small oversights, like not making room for a broom closet or cabinet, Chung knows that the house is all hers, and in the end, she only needed great designers—not a wedding—to make it happen.