Walking through the park-like grounds of the Village Green garden apartment complex, one tranquil tree-studded grass court after another, Steven Keylon is pointing out highlights, past and present. "That's where the wading pool used to be, until they filled it in," he gestures. "And there's the clubhouse." The sprawling Central Green main lawn, dominated by giant 70-year-old native sycamores, hosts gatherings and concerts, he says, and in the summer, outdoor movies.
"I don't see why I would ever want to leave," Keylon says. "The way they designed it still works. You have the best of living in a park, but have easy access to everything you want from the city."
Keylon and his partner, John De La Rosa, have lived in their two-story, two-bedroom, one-bath, 1,160-square-foot Village Green condominium since 2004. When the pair moved to Los Angeles from Sacramento, their priority was finding a condo with a locked garage for their 1941 Cadillac. That year — 1941 — is Keylon's bellwether for just about everything. As it turns out, the exceptional unit that came open for them was built in 1941, in one of the first buildings in the Baldwin Hills complex. "It was a good, basic unit that hadn't been touched too much," Keylon says. "We wanted to restore it."
What appeals to Keylon about this period is that "Modernism is maturing. It isn't the geometric Art Deco that is kind of busy, or the spare, stripped-down International style. There is a human element to it, a warmth."
Keylon and De La Rosa already had amassed a sizable collection of furniture by Gilbert Rohde, the Modernist master who designed some collections for Herman Miller. Nearly every piece in the condo — from dining room to living room, study to master bedroom — is from Rohde's 1941 Paldao Group, named after the type of Indonesian wood used for the suite of furniture influenced by biomorphic Surrealist shapes. The couple have found major pieces, such as the iconic desk in the study, through a knowledgeable Northern California dealer, but also through auction catalogs, EBay offerings and treasures unearthed in thrift stores.
Keylon, a banker by trade who spent six years on the Village Green board as well as time on the design review and cultural landscape report committees, has done extensive research on the garden complex's original color palette, which informed their interior choices. Downstairs, darker hunter and olive greens with orange accents predominate; upstairs, lighter blue-greens with coral.
The major work came in the kitchen and service area, which they wanted to return to "a modified version of the original design." Keylon completely refurbished a 1947 Tappan Deluxe stove to accompany their 1948 Hotpoint refrigerator. The original mahogany and stainless steel counters were replaced and updated, and they built new bottom cabinets, but the top cabinets are original, and painted the original red inside.
One of the highlights of the condo — which will be open to those attending the Los Angeles Conservancy's Nov. 1 garden apartment tour — is the beautifully appointed, faux leather-front bar cabinet the couple had built in the former service area. The bar space opens to the patio, emphasizing the easy indoor-outdoor living style that is Village Green's hallmark.
Keylon, who is scheduled to speak on historic landscape at the event's introductory session at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, is glad the public has this chance to get a rare glimpse of this National Historic Landmark complex. "You don't know how wonderful it is inside," he says. "There are people who live right around here who don't even know."
'We Heart Garden Apartments! Tour' info
The Los Angeles Conservancy will host its "We Heart Garden Apartments!" tour on Nov. 1 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $10 to $35. For more information and registration, visit http://www.laconservancy.org/gardentour.