A Sweet California Bungalow Filled With Storied Treasures

Los Angeles architect and designer Emily Farnham uses her home as a testing ground for big ideas.

Blue and Red Living room
Death Valley II by Justin Fantl; Thin Frame Lounge Chair, Lawson Fenning, $1,750; Round Coffee Table, Nickey Kehoe, $3,950; Seagrass Basket, Folia Collective, $21; Curved-Back Sofa, Lawson Fenning, $3,450; Case Study Planter With Stand, Modernica, $195; Custom Couch, Croft House; Alto Surface Lamp, Cedar and Moss, $209; Seaside Stripe Rug, Kate Spade, $800; Planter, Folia Collective; Custom Armchair, Night PalmPhotography by Trevor Smith

When architect and designer Emily Farnham and her husband, writer-director Jeremy Konner, started house hunting in Los Angeles, their only criteria was that the property be a good old-fashioned fixer-upper. After years working for large firms on ventures like the Jeremy Hotel, Los Angeles Federal Courthouse, and civic buildings and campuses, Farnham was ready to launch her own practice—and the home they were looking for would be her first project. 

It didn’t take long for a 1904 California bungalow in Elysian Heights to catch her eye. Similar designs are dotted around the neighborhood, among the beautiful old ficus and avocado trees and steep, narrow streets. “We knew it was the one when we saw it online,” she explains. “We didn’t even have to visit, but of course we did.” 

White and Wood Dining room
Along with her grandmother’s ink drawings and grandfather’s abstract landscape paintings, Farnham’s favorite works include portraits of Konner and herself by America Martin, hanging above the dining room table. | Custom Pendant Lamps, Heather Levine; Vintage Dining Table and Chairs, Heywood Wakefield; Custom Ladder, Alaco Ladder Company; Shallow Salad Bowl, Heath Ceramics, $135; Large Low Bowl by Terrafirma, Nickey Kehoe, $160; Wall Hanging by Heather Levine; Portraits by America Martin.
Photography by Trevor Smith

They discovered that the 1,238-square-foot space had been modified over the years and awkwardly carved up, but the important parts—like the original front windows—were still intact. “It was just calling out to be made cohesive again,” Farnham recalls. Once they were in escrow, she gave notice at her office and got to work, taking the lessons learned from bigger projects and applying them to their new home.

“I always honor the context of an existing place. I don’t try to dress it up as something it’s not,” says Farnham, who recently collaborated with Sarah Sherman Samuel for actress Mandy Moore’s major mid-century undertaking in Pasadena. “But when we gutted our house and saw it all as one giant room, I have to admit it was tempting to leave things open,” she notes. “That’s a trend you see a lot, but it’s not always right for the space.”

Instead, she opted for one wall to help define two big rooms—an entry/living room and a dining/kitchen area—which also became the perfect surface for displaying treasured artworks by friends and photographs of the couple’s now-2-year-old son, George.

White Study
Face Pot, Rami Kim, $98  Photography by Trevor Smith

The next challenge: While the home had loads of charm, it had zero storage. “I have tons of books on design, and Jeremy has lots on comedy and history, so we knew we’d need a large library,” says Farnham.

To make sure there was room for everything and then some, she added an artery running down the center of the entire house that starts as a drop zone by the front door, grows to a two-story bookshelf as it passes into the dining room, and becomes a full-height pantry in the kitchen. “People always say our kitchen feels huge, but in reality it’s tiny. The views are what make it look spacious inside,” she says.

White Kitchen
Custom Pendant Lamps, Heather LevineCandy Still Life by Justin Fantl; Signature Cast-Iron Round Dutch Oven by Le Creuset, Williams Sonoma, $340; Shallow Salad Bowl, Heath Ceramics, $135; White Marble Mortar and Pestle, Sur la Table, $26. Photography by Trevor Smith

With storage sorted, she was able to use the area normally reserved for upper cabinets as windows. And to add even more airiness, she raised the ceiling in the dining room all the way to the rafters, doubling the height: “I asked my good friend Heather Levine to make a custom fixture that mounts almost at the roofline and hangs very low over the dining table. I love the way her piece engages with the space.”

Taupe and White Bedroom
After whittling down bedroom square footage so she could add a bathroom and walk-in closet, Farnham installed a sliding glass door and deck to open up the space. | Ella Custom Bed, Room and Board, $1,800; Lawn Duvet Cover, Matteo LA, $195; Afghan, Tavin, $350; Bare Ring Sconce, Brendan Ravenhill Studio.
Red and White and Wood Nursery
The nursery and kitchen both boast a neutral palette with pops of color. | Mediterranea Wallpaper by Fornasetti, Designer Wallpapers; Hemnes Nightstand, Ikea, $69; Caravan Crib, Kalon Studios, $1,195; Semi-Circle Kelim Rug by Ferm Living, Huset, $359.
White and Wood Entryway
Flatus Print by Catrina StewartCollage by Cinta VidalBandini Boulevard #3 by Erin KasimowRobert Open Streaks by Mike Mills, Commune Design, $30; Custom Knobs, In-TeriaPhotography by Trevor Smith

Nowhere does the bungalow give off big-house attitude more than in the vestibule. “It might sound crazy to have a vestibule in a small home, but I really wanted there to be a bit of separation between the bedrooms and the kitchen,” explains the architect. She shrunk down the scale even more, so that the master bedroom and nursery wouldn’t open right to the kitchen. “The new sight lines really make everything feel more private,” she says, “and even improved the acoustics.” 

White and Wood Bathroom
In the master bathroom, a bench underneath the window creates discreet storage and an extra seat.
Blue and White Bathroom
Tiles, Heath Ceramics

And just when it seems like there couldn’t be another square inch—let alone square foot—to work with, the ever-resourceful Farnham is considering going underground for the next stage of her dream project.

“We’re on a hillside, so the space I have planned would get plenty of light and open up onto a citrus garden. We could entertain into the night without waking up George!” There’s always room for expansion. 

White and Wood Portrait
On Farnham: Vicky Embroidered Dress, Isabel Marant, $540. Vintage Pillow, Night Palm, $30; Kelim Rug in Borders by Ferm Living, Burke Decor, $479.
Photography by Trevor Smith

5 Ways to Approach Your Home Like an Architect 

Find Your Base 
Farnham starts looking at a space as a sculptural form—no material, no color—then layers in the personality. That way, she says, “it’s easier to make bold decisions on decor and furnishings.”  

All the Feels
“Anything you’re going to touch is worth spending money on, so hardware and handles are important,” explains Farnham, who splurged on giant wooden knobs from Australia-based Interia for her cabinetry. 

Tricks of the Trade 
Just because it’s usable space doesn’t mean it’s user friendly. Sacrificing a sitting area inside the master bedroom meant Farnham could have a bigger master bathroom and a walk-in closet. 

Start With Art
“For me, it just feels backward to pick a piece of art because it matches my decor,” Farnham says, “but I won’t hesitate to reupholster furniture to match the art!” 

Do Less 
“If something can be done simpler, with fewer steps or materials, it probably should be,” notes Farnham, a self-described minimalist when it comes to construction detailing. 

White Graphic
Photography by domino

Shop the look:

Hanging Lamp, Heather Levine 
02 Simone Flat-Weave Rug, Aelfie, from $89
03 Large Low Bowl, Nickey Kehoe, $170
04 Tiles, Heath Ceramics
05 Georgia Daybed, Consort Home, $3,000
06 The Dots Hooks, Muuto 
07 Brass Salt Mill, Sunday Shop, $80 
08 San Rafael Safari Stool, The Citizenry, $375
09 Kilim Pillow, Sunday Shop, $135 
10 #350 Round Boxed Edge Pillow, Highland House Furniture, $300

This story originally appeared in the summer 2018 issue with the headline "Small Wonder."

See more inspiring homes:
A Calm Connecticut Home Filled With Blue Hues and Seaside Vibes
DJ Mia Moretti Curates Her NYC Home Like an Eclectic Playlist
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Published on July 07, 2018 - 5:05am EDT

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