An 18-Foot “Upside-Down Tree” Chandelier Greets Guests at This L.A. Family Home
It went from spec house to “our house.”
Published Dec 18, 2023 1:09 AM
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In early 2020, Julie Chung and Kent Yu were living in a Spanish-style home in the Pacific Palisades with their three children. “We had no intention of moving,” says Chung, an eye surgeon and cofounder with Yu of the cult-favorite hair-tool brand T3. But as the stay-at-home era of the pandemic unfolded, their home’s 4,000 square feet began to feel increasingly cramped with their 7-year-old and twin 11-year-olds.
Luckily for the past two years, they’d been driving by a house up the street being built by a developer, on speculation that it would sell once complete. “It was in a beautiful neighborhood, overlooking the ocean, but it was 11,000 square feet and we just thought it was too big for us,” says Chung. But when that extra square footage started to sound appealing, they made the leap and bought the just-finished property. Their second call? Interior designer Sierra Fox, who had just founded her firm, Studio Mtn, to help them fill it.
Her primary order of business was to make the new build feel personal. “All spec homes are painted white-white, and we needed to warm it up and make it feel like us,” says Chung. “I joke that the whole design process was really de-spec-ing.” And even though the extra space was a huge benefit to the family, who could finally spread out, they didn’t want it to feel cavernous. “Anytime we work with a home that is not fully custom, there are spaces that the client feels like they will never use,” says Fox. “So finding ways to make those spaces feel inviting was important.”
That involved some painful decisions, like ripping out a beautiful bar jutting out between two living spaces on the first floor. “People thought we were crazy when we took out that bar, because it was at the center of our home,” says Yu. “But that’s just not how we live. I mean, we entertain, but we don’t need a giant bar in our living room!” They replaced it with a piano, which all three kids play.
When the design choices began, the couple was inspired by nature but with a twist: “We didn’t want it to be too earthy. I wanted there to be a bit of a refined, old-world element,” says Chung. “And practical, too, of course: This can’t be a museum house.”
Though Fox was committed to the “not a museum house” maxim, she did convince her clients to make one museum-worthy exception: an 18-foot oak-leaf chandelier crafted by the artisans at Cox London. “When you think of the foyer chandelier, you think of crystals,” Chung says. “Sierra suggested doing something more natural, and I said, ‘How about a giant upside-down tree?’”
From there, a nine-month-long process to design and build the chandelier began: “They sent us dozens of samples to figure out the color of each leaf,” says Chung. “Sierra hung a life-size paper chandelier of the final design to be sure each section fell in the exact spot along the staircase.”
The attention to detail didn’t stop at the jaw-dropping moments—it extended to much subtler designs as well. The dining room walls, originally planned to host a bucolic wallpaper, got a faint hand-painted mural instead, which took an artist three weeks to complete. “Sometimes people don’t even notice a mural until they step into a room,” says Chung. “I liked that it was more abstract and very subtle, but when you realize it’s there, it really comes alive.”
And, of course, bathroom design had an outsize importance for the couple, who founded their company on the idea that a hair dryer should look great on a countertop. “This bathroom was originally all white with black details, and we really wanted to warm it up,” says Chung. Enter: brass fixtures, a vintage mirror, wallpaper, and a rose marble vanity. Another area inspired by their business? The office. “For better or worse, I spend a lot of time in this office, even when I don’t need to,” says Yu. “So we wanted it to be more than just a giant computer on a desk.”
But the couple’s favorite spot to spend time isn’t even visible from the main living areas: It’s the finished basement, which houses a library, wine cellar, and movie room. “When we started, the basement was an empty white shell,” recalls Fox. “Julie sent me a photo of a black bookcase, which became the starting place of the room.” The space eventually came to house books, curved furniture, and cozy textures, all swathed in chocolate brown.
“When Sierra told me she envisioned this room brown, I didn’t know what to think,” says Chung. But after the wallpaper went up, she was sold. “It’s so different from the rest of the house, so you really feel like you’re getting away for an evening when you come down here.”