This L.A. Family Attests: You Can Create Your Dream Home, Even If It’s Not in Your Dream Neighborhood
When Los Feliz wasn’t an option, they found peace in the Valley.
Published Oct 5, 2023 1:45 AM
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When Danielle Lawless and her family decided to buy a house in Los Angeles during the summer of 2021, demand was high, inventory was low, and most homes were going for up to $300,000 over asking. On top of that, the founder of Cleo Rosa Interiors was the busiest she’s ever been professionally: Everyone wanted to renovate. “It was definitely an adventure,” recalls Lawless. After realizing they wouldn’t be able to buy in their favorite neighborhood, Los Feliz, she and her husband expanded their search. The only major must-have for the avid gardeners was a large yard, and, for their two children, it was a pool. They ticked both boxes with an 1,800-square-foot birdhouse ranch in the Valley that sits on a roomy 8,000-square-foot lot. “Most evenings, the kids are swimming and we’re pruning or watering the plants,” says Lawless. “It’s a really fun space to be in.”
The dreamy backyard came in handy in the beginning. Right away, Lawless decided to gut the kitchen, which resulted in alfresco family meals for two months. “It was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be,” she shares. Their makeshift kitchen outside included an induction stove that a friend lent them, a toaster oven, and an Instant Pot for making Persian stews and rice.
Using the garden hose (or sometimes the bathroom sink) to wash their dirty dishes for a few weeks felt totally worth it once Lawless saw her new-and-improved space. Having started her residential design career working for a kitchen designer, Lawless didn’t hold back on function: She prioritized a floor-to-ceiling pantry cabinet near the side door, a phone-charging station, loads of deep drawers, and—wait for it—a washer and dryer. “It’s a very European thing,” Lawless says of her choice to combine her cooking and laundry zones (the stacked machines are located along the main wall of cabinetry). “But I absolutely love having it in here because it makes the kitchen such a workhorse.”
While the designer usually advises her clients to start with their countertop and backsplash tile and let those choices guide their cabinet paint color, she did just the opposite when working on her own space. Lawless was confident she wanted to use Benjamin Moore’s First Crush (a faint blush), mostly because she was curious and feeling experimental. She knew most of her clients would never go for a pink kitchen.
The other materials snowballed from there: terrazzo tiled floors, natural quartzite countertops with flecks of red and green, and Kit Kat–style wall tiles that encompass the base of the eat-in peninsula. “I always tell clients, do tiling on your island or peninsula, because if you have kids and shoes, you’ll never have scuff marks,” notes Lawless.
All of her other start-from-scratch projects were furniture related. The living room sofa and its coordinating accent chair, along with the standing desk in the corner that secretly hides a litter box, are fully custom designs. The coffee table was more of a hack. The piece originally came with a marble top, but she swapped it out for a leftover slab of quartzite from another job after having her contractor cut it into a kidney bean shape (a subtle nod to the home’s mid-century roots).
Lawless isn’t the only one in her household who likes to follow through on their vision. Her daughter requested a bespoke headboard after spotting a similar wavy bed frame in one of Mom’s client decks. “She went through all my fabric samples and picked this really vibrant, almost Granny Smith apple green,” says Lawless.
Nearly all of the upholstered pieces, including the designer’s own velvet bed, are swathed in performance textiles—a necessary precaution when you have a dog, cats, and foster kittens around (the designer frequently works with nonprofit Rory to the Rescue). Regular nail clipping and a scratching post go a long way, she notes. “I pride myself on the fact that we raise really good cats and help them find their forever homes,” she says. It’s the least you can do after you’ve found yours.