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Like it or not, first impressions matter. And when Los Angeles–based couple Adam Pines and Joey Ricci first came across their future Laurel Canyon home on Zillow, they weren’t exactly sold. And yet, they had a feeling. “Even though it had horrible images and terrible staging, Joey had a hunch,” Pines says. “When we went to visit it, we both felt some magical force, and we knew it was on us to reveal its hidden magic.”

On them, yes, but also on their talented designer, Sarah Solis, who also saw the potential in the three-bedroom Spanish-style home. That said, she knew she’d have to make a few tweaks before the vibes could match the “warm, soft, imprecise” feel that Pines says they were going for. So she replaced the flooring with reclaimed Spanish Cotto tile (worth the splurge, she says) and opened up the enclosed stairway by removing a wall and a handrail to give the illusion of more breadth, even without changing the 1,800-square-foot floor plan. 

In fact, finding clever ways to add space without an addition proved to be a theme of the project. For example, instead of taking up floor space with a dining table, Solis added stools to the kitchen island and moved the more formal eating space outside—this is L.A. after all.  Besides, “they’re loungy,” she says of her clients, who opted for hangout zones, like the Togo sofa in the living room and a daybed window seat softened further with mismatched square and rectangular pillows.

Over in the plaster-walled kitchen, in lieu of island drawers or heavy cabinets, she kept storage open, which she says “looks cool and makes it easy for them to access pots and dishes they’ve collected from their travels.”

In the powder room, Solis made the best of a small space by wall-mounting a copper sink she found on Etsy (a pedestal would have taken up too much real estate) and adding mix-and-match Portuguese tile above it as a backsplash.

Upstairs, three tiny bedrooms continue the old world–inspired coziness. The primary one, which Solis calls “sultry,” connects to a bathroom with a vanity that uses the same reclaimed wood as the kitchen island. In another, perfectly crinkled linen sheets beg to be jumped into. But the real winner is a guest room with a nook that Solis, inspired by her research of Spanish- and adobe-style built-ins, fashioned to hold an entire bed. The result is so inviting that Pines and Ricci sometimes forgo their own room to doze there instead. “When I need to cocoon and heal away from the world, I take naps there,” Pines says. “It’s our recharge station.”

Linen Duvet Cover, Cultiver.

The entire project was only meant to take three months—COVID delays extended that to a full year—but Solis credits her clients for keeping on track creatively, which helped them stay within budget. “Decisiveness will always save you,” Solis says. “Going back and forth, resourcing things—that’s spinning wheels.” 

When in doubt, go with your gut, she says: “Whenever I walk into a project, I have a gut instinct. Sure, you have to go through the process of exploring other options, but 99 percent of the time, we go back to the instincts that I had walking into the project.”

Which brings us to the house’s atrium, unavoidable to anyone who enters, and thankfully so. It’s the home’s ultimate “nice to meet you,” a showstopping foyer with a lived-in bench for dropping keys and an olive tree for diffusing the sun’s rays. “It needs to flood the living room,” Solis remembers saying of the light during her first walk-through.  And now that she opened up the walls and stairway, that’s a reality. 

Today, the homeowners can confidently say that their house’s first impression remains its best one. “Nothing beats the feeling of walking into the house,” Ricci says. “In particular in the morning, when the light is bursting through the casement windows—it just has this energy that can’t be beat.”

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