In Actors Sam Lerner and Olivia Sui’s L.A. Home, Striped Wallpaper Stretches to the Skylight
And dinners (usually) take place at the round kitchen island.
Published Feb 5, 2024 1:45 AM
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Actors Sam Lerner and Olivia Sui’s first date was very L.A. Back in 2018, a mutual friend who had worked with Lerner on the sitcom The Goldbergs had put the two in touch and, after some back-and-forth texting one day, they ended up meeting in person at buzzy health-food store Erewhon. They secured groceries, grabbed smoothies, and left their cars in the parking lot as they walked to the Grove, where Sui wanted to make a quick Sephora pit stop. “We were immediately obsessed with each other,” says Lerner. Fast-forward to fall 2020, and the pair had decided to embark on another Los Angeles rite of passage: buying a house. Moving out of their respective West Hollywood rentals and into a place together was much needed at the time. “Liv was staying at my apartment with my two roommates a lot and it was a total brofest,” says Lerner. “Fun, but not so conducive to our relationship.”
They began from scratch together in a new-build home that has a swimming pool, a designated office for self-taped auditions, and a sleek kitchen. But the place lacked personality, so Lerner called up an old middle school classmate, Kristina Khersonsky, who had recently left her career in event design and founded her own interiors practice, STUDIO KEETA. To get the couple started on their furniture-shopping journey, the first spot she took them was B&B Italia so they could test out Mario Bellini’s Camaleonda sofa in all its newest iterations (the furniture purveyor began reissuing the piece in 2020, so it was perfect timing). After a two-hour-long deliberation over the color, with olive green ultimately beating out burnt orange, Sui and Lerner decided to splurge on a modular arrangement, knowing it would be swathed in a combination of scratch-resistant leather and durable chenille that could withstand their rambunctious dog Grizzy’s nails. “It still looks like the first day we got it,” notes Sui.
When lounging around the extra-large room, the pair will get a moody Blood Orange record going and match the energy by toying with the Ilanel wall fixture (it changes colors when you twist its three knobs, each one adjusting either the red, green, or blue color spectrum). Khersonsky’s thinking was that guests would get a kick out of it—and she was right. “They’ve found shades I haven’t even seen before,” says Lerner. Before people arrive, Sui will also flick on the vintage sconce and palm tree–shaped lamp in the guest bedroom; each emits a calming glow across the busy floor-to-skylight striped wallpaper. “I’ll walk past the room and be like, God, I could really sleep right now,” she says. Later on, when no one’s around, she’ll carve out the time to do just that. “I read there. I nap there. It’s like going on vacation,” she adds.
The kitchen island is a natural gathering point when family and friends come over, mostly due to its unique shape but also because of its proximity to the front patio where an extra-long outdoor table can easily fit eight. “Sometimes we don’t even sit—we’ll just stand there and eat and drink and dance around,” Sui says of the island. That’s usually the case when Lerner’s parents are over: The noodlelike Moustache chairs parked at the dining table offer a little comedic fodder for the group. “They’re like, why did you pay all this money for a chair with no bottom?” Lerner says with a laugh. “But I love how casually the chairs move around (sometimes I’ll sit backward in one and watch TV). Plus they force you to sit upright.”
When selecting pieces for the project, Khersonsky’s gut check was to simply watch her clients’ faces: They make it clear when they absolutely need to have something (there’s a $200 giant piggy bank in the backyard that can attest to this). “If you don’t have a visceral reaction to something, it may not be worth putting in your house,” says the designer. The only problem is, when you’re not the only one with an opinion, there’s a chance that thing you love could get vetoed. “I went rogue on some paintings,” admits Lerner, recalling the time a “random” painting of a dog landed in his 1stDibs cart after a 2 a.m. deep dive. “We still have it, but it’s in the laundry room,” he says, laughing.
Growing an art collection is easier when you happen to be close with a lot of artists. A photograph by Khersonsky’s fiancé, Jason Landis, hangs in a hallway near two small works by Alan Fears (a friend of Lerner’s) and Alex Paulus (a now-Instagram friend of Lerner’s). They’ve even filled some of the empty wall space themselves: A painting by Sui that reads “I am very dum!” can be found in the guest bathroom.
Once Khersonsky put her final touches on the house, which included reupholstering a vintage Maralunga chair in Grizzy-proof fabric from Maharam, she made a call to a local professional organizer who spent five days helping the couple sort through all their stuff. “It helped me realize, I don’t really need 25 [pairs of] sweatpants,” says Sui. Still, anytime Sui sees a cool vintage book at a flea market or estate sale, she won’t pass it up, even if she knows she’ll never end up reading it. “Maybe Sam is right; maybe I am a hoarder,” she says jokingly. The stacks on their coffee table continue to grow. Among her favorites is a chronicle of all the movies that were made in 1954 and their corresponding reviews. And soon, she’ll be reading what people have to say about her own work: This year, Sui is set to direct her first short film—and her star is the guy she met in a grocery store six years ago.