My husband Mark and I went on our first date when I was a sophomore in high school, and he was a senior—almost 19 years ago! While it may be true that I didn’t even know how to drive a car at the time, what I did know is that I had found a good thing, and I saw no reason to let it go. We’ve stayed together through high school and college and beyond, getting married, having kids, growing up, and evolving as a unit.
Much in the same way that we have remained committed to our very first loves, we both fell in love with a “starter home” duplex we bought together with my now-sister-in-law in 2009. The house, which was built in 1939, hadn’t had many major upgrades since the 1970s. Each unit was one-bedroom, one-bath. The yard lacked any landscaping and was a literal urban jungle of many strange artifacts (animal bones, buried doll heads…) and weeds. But with the help of my contractor father-in-law, we were able to bring a couple of condemned staircases up to code, add in central air and heat, and in true fixer-upper cliché fashion, we pulled up ancient carpeting to reveal original red oak flooring underneath. About a year later, we added on a primary bedroom and bathroom, giving us more ample square footage and room to grow.
We both grew up in the Valley but ended up in Silver Lake by a combination of fates, one being that it was still rather inexpensive to buy here. (My fellow Angelenos likely spit out their coffee upon reading this—knowing that the median home price in our neighborhood now hovers somewhere around 1.4 million.) I truly hadn’t spent much time in Silver Lake prior to moving here. I suppose it could have gone the other way, but as it turned out we quickly fell in love with this neighborhood. Our home is perched high on a hill, overlooking much of the city with a particularly good view of the Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory, and the Silver Lake Reservoir (the “lake” for which Silver Lake was named).
But back to our house‚ which even with the addition was still quite modest in size—about 1,200 square feet. Things felt a bit smaller when my daughter, Eden, was born in 2014, and a bit smaller still once our second baby, Arlo, was born in 2017. But of course, the walls really closed in on us once COVID hit. It was now, as we spent months huddled up inside as a family of four, that we started to feel we had a decision to make. Either we begin to look for a larger space in a less expensive area, giving up that billion-dollar view and all that we loved about our neighborhood, or we allow our home to continue to grow and evolve with our family. I had complained about our galley kitchen for years, but suddenly cooking 21 meals a week and nurturing a newly acquired sourdough bread baking habit, the need for a bigger kitchen became much more urgent. Taking advantage of the historically low-interest rates, we refinanced our home, taking enough cash out to cover a kitchen remodel while only modestly raising our monthly mortgage payments.
With my contractor father-in-law as a resource once again, we were able to come up with a layout and design without hiring an architect. My father-in-law drilled many, many holes in our walls to find out which walls were structural, and Mark used our kids’ LEGO blocks to build 3-D models. We figured out that we’d be able to reuse almost all of our old cabinets and appliances, which meant we had a little more budget to allocate toward the fun stuff (in my opinion, at least) like countertops and light fixtures. The last time we renovated, my father-in-law was still working full time, so our project took the backseat to his paying clients and mostly came together on weekends. He retired a few years ago, however, which meant he was able to be extremely hands-on this time. He hired laborers for the demo and subcontractors for things like our flooring, electric, and plumbing, but he was there working basically every single day over the course of two months. He even personally built the new cabinets we needed! I lucked out in the in-law department for a myriad of reasons, but this is definitely one of them.
While it turned out there was a structural column in the kitchen we did have to keep, we were able to move one side of the kitchen from the inside to the outside of said column, taking the kitchen from galley to U-shape and almost doubling it in size. This meant that we were also able to add a small walk-in pantry with a pocket door (something we never had before!). We barely lost any countertop space and gained some serious square footage in the kitchen! All thanks to playing around with LEGO blocks…
We were also able to push our back wall out a couple feet onto our deck, and while a structural support column remains from the old wall there as well, this meant we could install folding Panoramic Doors along the entire length of the wall, something we had talked about doing for years. This opened our entire back wall up to our deck, for a truly dreamy indoor-outdoor living situation. I will share that the Panoramic Doors were not cheap. These doors slide along a track and then only flip out at the end, which means that, unlike typical bifold doors, they do not encroach upon your deck space until the very end of the track. The doors ate up about half of our entire reno budget, but I have zero regrets there. We enjoy them every single day.
When it came to fixtures and finishes for the kitchen, I played around with a Pinterest mood board that ended up evolving into a whole PowerPoint presentation, and also consulted Sarah Sherman Samuel via The Expert toward the end, when I felt like I could use a professional opinion on things. We chatted on Zoom for less than an hour, but it was extremely helpful! I totally recommend that as a great option for my fellow amateur designers who love the hands-on process of designing their own space, but still have a few questions or need a second, more experienced, set of eyes. I sent Sarah my PowerPoint ahead of time so that she could look through it if she had time, and then came prepared with a set of questions I was still pondering: “Will an arched shelf work in our space, if we don’t already have arches in our home?” and “Should I do a tile backsplash or have our countertop slab continue onto the backsplash?” She gave me her opinion and reasoning behind each answer and suggested some specific products that were still TBD—like a plug-in pendant light for over our dining table. (I somehow hadn’t even thought to look at Urban Outfitters for that! Ours is sold out, but they still have a great selection.) I also just wanted to make sure she didn’t see any red flags with the design we had planned (luckily, she did not!).
My favorite design element is the open arch shelf. I love a good arch and was excited to see that idea come to fruition. My husband and father-in-law originally doubted the idea since arches were not already an “architectural feature” in our home, but everyone ended up admitting I’d been right about that one. (Plus, Sarah was on my side!)
Here are some before and afters:
If you’re curious to see more of the process, I saved a “Renovations” highlight on my Instagram profile. And of course, I am more than happy to answer questions.
P.S. We also may be looking to do a home swap in London for a few weeks in July, so if you might be interested in trading spaces and coming to L.A., feel free to let me know!