"The Mediterranean architecture, the garden and the indoor-outdoor living space reminded me of my childhood in the south of France," Woolworth says, pouring water into a flea market glass. "I was looking for a home with soul."
Drain solution: A Sept. 11 Home section profile of Priscilla Woolworth, who sells eco-friendly products online, mentioned her tips for eco-friendly living, including a recommendation to clean drains with vinegar and baking powder. The article should have said baking soda, not baking powder. —
That was in 2002, and soon after Woolworth moved in with daughters Arielle and Lucie. Room by room, Woolworth renovated and expanded to the point where she now has a full-fledged compound. With a converted garage and two additional bedroom suites, both freestanding cottages, the property consists of four bedrooms and five bathrooms spread over four structures. The threads running through all of the spaces: a celebration of color and a love of the natural world.
"I'm a color addict and will often paint flea market pieces in Mexican pink and bright yellow," she says.
Renovations, however, started in the garden.
"I planted lavender everywhere. It thrives in dry, hot climates and requires little maintenance, " Woolworth says, then closes her eyes. "It also reminds me so much of Cannes."
After the garden began to thrive, she focused on turning a detached garage-turned-recording studio into a bedroom. She ripped out the soundproofing in the walls and pulled up the carpeting to discover, much to her amazement, a beautiful tiled floor. Once that makeover was complete, Arielle, 13 at the time, moved in.
"It was a way for me to give my teenager the feeling of independence and still have her only 10 steps away from our kitchen," Woolworth says.
Furniture and rugs throughout the home often have come from the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena. Side tables have been decorated with found objects picked up during hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains or walks along the beach at Point Dume. A preserved beetle inhabits a bookshelf in the library, and stones and shells trump expensive Steuben glass pieces elsewhere. Indeed, the very idea of looking but not touching hardly applies when visiting the Villa in the Valley, as many friends call the house.
"I don't want to worry about having valuable things in my home that I can't enjoy," says Woolworth, who told the story of her grandmother's estate in Maine being robbed by famed art thief Myles Connor. "I find great beauty in things nature created. That's enough for me."
Priscilla's great grandfather was cousin to Frank W. Woolworth, founder of the five-and-dime stores. Her grandfather worked with F.W. and moved to England to expand the Woolworth empire in the United Kingdom around 1900. Priscilla has made her own name as operator of an online shop devoted to green living.
"Friends would come over and constantly ask me where I bought items or how I made things out of them," she says, "and that's when it hit me: I need to start a store."
She launched PriscillaWoolworth.com in January 2009 out of her home. She converted one gardening shed into a stock room, then another into an art studio, where she designs pieces to sell online. She says she personally tests everything she sells, be it a microfiber dish cloth or a prototype rain collector.
"L.A. is running out of water, so I've taken steps to be smart about my own water management," says Woolworth, who has strategically placed three rainwater collectors throughout the property. "A friend, who happens to be a winemaker, gave me this very wine barrel. I repurposed it by adding a simple nozzle faucet, then connected a chain from the barrel to the gutter to direct the flow. Now I use the collected rainwater to nourish my garden."
Woolworth knew little about her family's namesake stores until she was a teenager. ("I grew up in France, where most people couldn't even pronounce my last name," she says.) But French relatives on her mother's side, also retailers, lived the green life long before it was fashionable, whether that meant carrying reusable totes to the store or shopping for seasonal produce at local markets.
By combining those traditions with retail roots and her DIY spirit, Woolworth aims to reinvent the general store for a new generation.
And after a long day in front of the computer in her home office, she likes to escape to where it all began: the garden.
"It grounds me and takes me back to a place where I feel calm and content," she says. She cuts the lavender, dries it for use as kindling, occasionally cooks with it or simply enjoys the scent — the scent of home.