Against Friends’ Advice, a L.A. Couple Kept This Quirky Feature During Their Reno
The hidden doorway, on the other hand, got the boot.
Published Jun 30, 2023 1:55 AM
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One of the very first changes Drew Cohen (the singer, songwriter, and producer also known as Mayer Hawthorne) and his wife, model Karina Nicholson, made to their Los Angeles bungalow was covering up a window. Now in its place? Built-ins that house Cohen’s expansive vinyl collection. “We had to get all the records up onto the wall somewhere; there were boxes all over the floor and taking up the whole house,” says Cohen. Luckily, the rest of the living room is framed by huge windows that look out onto the city, so they could spare giving up one.
“We always say that Drew manifested the house,” shares Nicholson, recalling Cohen’s long search for a home in the Los Feliz neighborhood. Listings are few and far between, but every time he would drive over the Shakespeare Bridge (named for the Bard and its Gothic architecture), he’d tell himself he was going to live there. When this circa-1937 house came on the market in 2020, they jumped at the opportunity, even though they knew a renovation was imminent. The floors were uneven and warped, the kitchen was stuck in the 1980s, and the door leading to the primary bathroom left zero space for a bedroom dresser. A positive attitude came in handy. “We’re people who like the quirky details. They’re hard to find nowadays,” says Nicholson.
Throw the Game On
Some of the eyesores in the kitchen were easy to remove, like the faux pantry doors hiding the garage access—a screwdriver took care of that. The structural wall dividing the kitchen from the living room was not so easily remedied, which was a big deal to Cohen, who likes to watch sports while he cooks. As a compromise, they carved out a pass-through window. “It was kind of out of necessity, but it ended up being the coolest part of the house,” he says.
Check It Twice
Underfoot is a subtle nod to music history. After seeing an old photograph of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin standing on a marble checkered floor next to a piano, the pair decided to replicate the scene. The pattern they landed on was so specific that each tile had to be custom-cut. Cohen and Nicholson also splurged on the bespoke dining banquette that’s swathed in an Alexander Girard checkerboard fabric and cognac leather, sourced from Maharam. “We’re such big breakfast people. We love our coffee and New York Times crossword in the morning,” says Cohen.
Save Your Samples
In the process of deciding on a backsplash tile, Nicholson and Cohen ordered a ton of samples from Clé Tile to take a closer look. They ultimately put in a big order for pink zellige, but there was still a question of what to do with all the other ones they had been considering. Lightbulb moment: Combine them to make a mini powder room backsplash.
Rearrange Your Subway Tile
When it came to sourcing simple white subway tile for their primary bathroom, things were surprisingly trickier. “We just couldn’t get enough,” recalls Cohen. They drove all around California, stopping at seven different stores, to accumulate the right amount for their tub-shower combo. The idea to lay them out in an alternating horizontal and vertical pattern was all Cohen’s idea. If there was a way to make subway tile interesting, he was determined to find it. “We sat on the ground and tried a million things. That was our favorite,” he says.
Follow Your Own Gut, Not Your Friends’
The thing about renovating a house that no one tells you about is that it opens up the door for other people’s opinions. “The amount of people who would see photos and ask when we were going to take the columns out was shocking,” recalls Nicholson, referring to the turned Douglas fir columns that frame the staircase. Quickly, they learned to respond “no” or “never”—they couldn’t imagine losing them.
Streamline an Exterior With One (Just One!) Paint Color
Cohen guesses that whoever had painted the home’s facade before them must have lost track of what the original color was and did a poor job of matching it. “It was like eight different shades of salmon,” he says with a laugh. Painting everything one cohesive color came with major sticker shock. Because the property is located on a hill, the job would require scaffolding, causing the price to skyrocket. But it was worth it in the end. Now when they pick avocados from the trees out back or enjoy their “personal version of the Chateau Marmont” in the front, they don’t have to look at 50 shades of pinkish beige.