You Have to See This Stunning Bungalow Transformation
When I found this rundown bungalow in the artsy neighborhood of Silver Lake, it was just what I was hoping for: something so ugly that it would scare off everyone but me. As a newly divorced single mom, I needed a deal; as a designer, I could see past its shabby facade. Plus, it had a flat lot with plenty of room for my son to run and play, and that’s tough to find in this hilly neighborhood.
My vision was to freshen the Craftsman house with a modern farmhouse twist, but I didn’t want it to look brand-new even though the place needed an extensive renovation. I decided to live here for two months before starting so I could really understand what to keep and what had to go. I also realized I could save money by becoming my own contractor—a first for me—which meant I had to be the quality control person while also managing the schedule, budget, and crew.
My design business is in town, so I knew I had a network I could count on. I trusted my gut and made the leap. We took the house down to the studs and reworked it to create an open floor plan that feels larger than its 1,400 square feet. The grounds had been just as neglected, and it was hard to see the house hiding behind overgrown hedges and trees. I kept the cinder block retaining wall and original entry gate, but everything else got the boot.
It made me a little sad to take out the redwood tree planted close to the front of the house. (A previous owner had topped it with hopes that it might flourish, but it never did.) But I replaced it with a pair of olive trees, and now we get so much more light. That was my goal for the whole project—to lighten and brighten the house but stay true to the original spirit. I wanted it to look and feel perfectly aged and comfy, like a family home that has known years of love, because that’s how we intend to live in it.
The Living Spaces
My 1936 California Craftsman had that charming old-house style—formal rooms with built-ins, a fireplace, and cove molding—but the layout wasn’t working for me. The house is 1,400 square feet, and the little rooms felt extra tight. I knew tearing out walls would give me the indoor-outdoor flow I was going for, but it also meant taking out the fireplace. That’s a solution most people wouldn’t consider, but for me, the open space was totally worth it. It’s important to think about how you want to live. So we replaced load-bearing walls with structural beams to create one long room with the living room at the front, a sunroom at the back, and a kitchen in the middle.
It could have easily turned into a new-construction drywall box, but I wanted the house to feel like a restored 1930s home. So in the living room, I added architectural detail with faux exposed beams and shiplap siding in the TV nook. I designed the sunroom to feel like a porch that had been enclosed at some point in the past 80 years—a vaulted ceiling, board-and-batten on the walls, and a brick floor make it feel like you’re stepping into a different space.
Instead of re-creating built-ins, I realized I could add more personality with furniture. And because the rooms are still small, all the pieces have to work hard. In the living room, for example, I chose the biggest sleeper sofa that would fit from my line Clad Home, and in the sunroom bookcases double as a spot to prop art for a rotating gallery wall. I used every inch to get exactly what I wanted—a place to relax and enjoy family time.
At some point, while searching Pinterest for inspiration, I realized I had pinned a lot of herringbone brick floors. That’s when you know you’re onto something—if an idea strikes you again and again. I got the look in my sunroom with Arto Brick, which is made here in Los Angeles. It’s actually a concrete tile that looks like old brick, but it’s more durable than real brick. I wanted the floor to look soulful and handmade and full of character, which made my type-A tile setter crazy. He’s a perfectionist, so I had to constantly remind him that I was going for rustic and a little uneven—that the imperfections make it interesting.
When your mother is a librarian you grow up with a lot of books. I was set on keeping up the tradition by having a little library. I made a desk from two file cabinets and a countertop so my son can do his homework while I read. I cobbled together four vintage barrister cabinets. They were different depths and heights, but the modification was pretty simple. An oak top ties them together. I spent about $1,000 on the bookshelves, about half the price (and twice the character) of a custom piece.
U-Shape Kitchen Makeover
From the very start of this renovation, my goal was to modernize and open up the floor plan. That meant tearing out some walls, and the thing you learn pretty quickly when you lose walls—especially in a kitchen—is that you need to be mindful about planning storage and function alongside style. Where the original kitchen walls were located, I placed two peninsulas. This layout creates a U-shape workspace that lets me cook while my son sits at the counter on one side or friends relax on the banquette built into the other.
The focal point is a 1950s stove I found on Craigslist. I bought it from an 80-year-old woman who had cooked on it her whole life and babied it. The stove was in perfect condition and a steal at $300, and the white enamel and chrome worked with my modern farmhouse vision. I centered it on the main wall and traded one large window for two tall, narrow ones in order to top the stove with a big vent hood and backsplash. I chose white for everything between the peninsulas: paint, counters, stove, apron-front sink, backsplash, cabinets. I didn’t want the eye to get hung up on a busy backsplash tile or a countertop that would define the size and shape of the kitchen. White keeps the flow going.
I used IKEA flat-pack cabinets upgraded with Shaker-style doors and drawer fronts from Semihandmade, a company that makes doors and trim for IKEA cabinetry. On the opposite wall, a floor-to-ceiling breakfront mimics one you might have found in homes a hundred years ago. But designing this wall was tricky. I stacked two stock upper cabinets on top of deep base cabinets. To give the stock cabinets a built-in look, I added trim to cover a gap at the top and painted it to match the cabinets. I thought about painting these accent cabinets black for high contrast then decided, "Let’s live a little and go green!"Green cabinets were a first for me, but I love how they help bring the outside in.
Not-So-Formal Dining Room
We live informally, so when we want a quick bite, we sit at the counter. When we sit down for a family meal, we usually go to the patio in the backyard. Still, there’s always a need for a table and chairs. Here’s how I squeezed a dining room into the floor plan. We didn’t need counter seating at both of the peninsulas, so I designed one without an overhang to free a little room for a banquette area. I had benches custom made to have flat backs so they snug tight against the walls. They take advantage of every inch, seating six or seven—more if we’re talking my son’s friends.
Bedroom and Bath Makeovers
There's rarely a hallway in old homes like my 1936 bungalow—you walk through one room to get to the next. So I knew my remodel would mean reimagining the layout. I designed my new floor plan as a rectangle divided by a central hall. The open kitchen and living spaces are on one side; the bedrooms and baths are on the other side for privacy. For my room, I wanted a retreat, so I layered it with neutral colors and natural materials like the raw linen window treatments. The centerpiece is the mossy green velvet bed I designed for my store. More soft greens come in through the vintage Turkish rug. I like that is has a subtle pattern that's a little bit worn. I bought it through an Etsy store that connected me directly to a market in Turkey that let me ask questions and see lots of pictures before picking one. Bonus: Buying that way costs about a third of what you might spend at a showroom.
I sacrificed a little size in my bathroom to have more closet space, and it's a trade I'd make again and again. To give the illusion that the bathroom is bigger, I used a glass splash guard instead of a full shower door, and I hung a wall-mount vanity instead of a freestanding one. Slabs of quartz with dramatic veining and handmade tiles in the shower echo the organic look in my bedroom.
My son's bedroom maintained its original footprint and bay window. I added a window seat with storage drawers to hold his toys and costumes. He was involved with the decisions in his bedroom and his bathroom, which also serves as a hall bath for guests.
I bought the claw-foot tub on Craigslist and hired a pro to reglaze the inside, then my son and I worked together to fix it up. We sanded the outside to knock down the rust and painted it black. We left the feet rusty as a reminder of how far we've come—both the house and us.
The rear of the house had a poorly built addition that wasn’t structurally sound, so I had to tear it off and start over. Removing it also gave me a chance to add French doors to my bedroom and the sunroom, changing the way the indoor and outside spaces relate.
I wanted it to feel like a living room—well-appointed and cozy. I set up multiple seating areas and chose pale finishes that will stay cool under the hot sun. Keeping all the plantings within a monochromatic palette helped me get a cohesive look. Deep into Pinterest, I realized I loved shades of green with white florals, so that’s what I stuck to.
I could have built a larger addition and patio but not without sacrificing an 80-year-old white mulberry tree. Instead, I designed the backyard around it and enjoy the shade it provides. I named the home Mulberry House after it. For the English-meets-Mediterranean look I love, I layered shades of weathered gray: the stained basket-weave fence I designed, the rustic concrete patio, and the teak table and chairs, which naturally weathered to a soft gray.
California’s temperate climate allows us to use our backyard most of the year. I had a gas line run to the 8-foot fire pit where my son and I spend weekends roasting marshmallows for s’mores. I topped four rusty old chairs with comfy cushions to lounge in. In place of grass, I wanted low-maintenance pea gravel, but weeds always seem to send up peeking through. To avoid needing landscape fabric, we scraped the lot, watered it, and killed any weeds that sprouted.
Everything looks good at a nursery, but to find plants that would thrive in my yard, I walked around and took notes on what was doing well in my neighbors’ yards. The winners were boxwood, lavender, rosemary, and westringia.