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Rundown Craftsman in Highland Park needed a savior. Now it's a stunning family home

Los Angeles-based designer Taidgh O’Neill and his wife, Stephanie, had been searching for a home for months when the architectural restorer stumbled upon a neglected property in Highland Park.

 “We were submitting blind offers because houses were going so fast,” he says.

In what proved to be a serendipitous invite, he was asked to evaluate the house not as a buyer but as a builder.   

“The Realtors wanted to hire me to fix up the house before they put it on the market,” explains O’Neill, 36. “I told them, ‘How about I buy it as is?’”

Now, everywhere you look there is something that O’Neill has made: a crib he built for his sons, Eamonn, 5 and Enzo, 2, a rocking chair and sofa in the living room, plus large-scale photographs and a 5-foot long pull-out cutting board in the kitchen.

He says his furnishings — his latest self-taught discipline — are informed by his art, and in this personal setting, they help to create a distinctively modern Craftsman sensibility.

His willingness to jump in is not surprising for someone who refers to himself as a “big believer in innovation through ignorance.”

After graduating from UCLA, where he put himself through art school by doing construction, O’Neill taught himself finish carpentry. He then apprenticed with a cabinetmaker for six weeks to learn woodworking before starting his own historic restoration company.

“When I was at UCLA, my training was about theory and very little technique,” he says. “Finish carpentry is really precise. If you learn the basics, you can innovate and have fun.”

So in 2012, he put all of his skills to work when the couple purchased the home for $300,000.

The modest 1905 property had been a rental for about 50 years, and O’Neill guesses it was purchased from a catalog. Looking back, he describes the interiors as overwhelmingly bland  — beige carpeting, beige walls and beige wood paneling. Even the bungalow’s charming woodwork and fireplace were buried under multiple layers of beige paint.

“It looked like a haunted house,” says Stephanie, 38, a paralegal for Capitol Records.

Working 18 hours a day, O’Neill gutted and remodeled the front half of the house in two months.  

“It was exhausting,” he says. “But we were just so excited to be able to own something.” 

Over the next two years — and while living in the house with his family — he remodeled the kitchen, added a new hallway with transom windows, redid all the windows and created columns in the living room. 

Stephanie jokes that a lot of the renovation process was dictated by necessity: When Taidgh stepped through the rotted front porch, he rebuilt it. 

Some of the changes speak to his carpentry skills. He disassembled the box beams on the ceiling of the living and dining rooms and flipped them over to expose unspoiled wood. He removed the wainscoting and used it to build the columns. He opened up the master bedroom by removing a single door and installing salvaged French doors. And to restore some original charm, he and his father stripped and refinished the built-in fireplace cabinetry.

That handcrafted element is what moved dealer Joel Chen to carry his furnishings in his galleries on North Highland Avenue. 

“When I look at his pieces, I see handicraft, carvings and fluidity,” says Chen. “None of the pieces are the same. There are endless possibilities in his design, which I like.”   

Similarly, after spending about $60,000 in the process, O’Neill has created a home that embodies his unique aesthetic.  

 “I started making furniture that was practical and domestic and infused it with gesture,” he says. “It was really fun to go through the house and riff in my own style.” 

Has there been more than concrete benefits to his labor? 

“It was a nice break from artistic self-doubt,” he says with a laugh.  

lisa.boone@latimes.com

Twitter: @lisaboone19 

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