Charged with transforming a historic old bungalow on a studio lot into a hub for Australian filmmakers, the first thing Ingrid Weir did was … move in.
"Architects often live on their sites before building — just to get the spirit of the space — and I think it's a good idea sometimes for designers too," she said. "Also, it felt very comfortable to me because I pretty much grew up on film sets."
The daughter of acclaimed movie director Peter Weir ("Dead Poets Society," "Witness"), the Sydney-based designer/costumer/photographer spent a few weeks earlier this year camping out in the cottage at Hollywood's Raleigh Studios, which itself dates back over a century.
It's a cottage with a pedigree.
Shortly after Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith, and Charlie Chaplin formed United Artists, they moved onto the lot in 1919; the bungalow is, in fact, where the actor known for his Little Tramp character could usually be found, often involved in a friendly card game with close pal Fairbanks.
Now dubbed "Charlie's" for obvious reasons, the space is rented by Australians in Film (AiF), a nonprofit group that gives TV and film industry types from Down Under a place to work, brainstorm and connect with Hollywood.
"It can be a tough town to crack," explained AiF President Kate Marks. "The aim of Charlie's is to create a base for Australian creatives who are coming to Los Angeles to sell their stories [and] to create a work-sharing space where ideas can flow, serendipitous connections can be made and projects born."
Taking her cue from Chaplin himself — "his early pioneering spirit became a driving force" — Weir's challenge was to freshen up the original charm of the 900-square-foot space, while throwing in a few Australian references and adhering to a humble budget.
"I definitely didn't want it to be mired in the past with a completely retro feeling," she said. "But I wanted it to have a sort of timelessness."
To that end, she spent many weekends roaming the aisles of the Topanga Canyon, Santa Monica, Rose Bowl and Long Beach flea markets. "I've lived all over the world and L.A. has the best flea markets anywhere," she enthused.
The portraits of a young man that greet visitors at the entrance are, somewhat surprisingly, Chaplin in his early 20s; the desk below was sourced from ReUse Salvage in Glendale (i.e., the plaster columns) and Future Glass Company in Burbank (the glass top), with an authentic Eames chair found at the Rose Bowl.
The four desks in the writers room are all flea market finds — "because of the scale of the room, I used Midcentury Modern desks, as they're smaller" — as are the vintage clipboards adorning the walls. The largest room — a meeting area dubbed "The Mermaid Room" in honor of swim star Annette Kellerman (the Australian Esther Williams) — holds a '50s table and a set of blue leather chairs, purchased at the Pasadena Antique Center, along with a large wall cabinet from ReUse. "That's one of my favorite things," Weir said. "It's huge and it's such a beautiful shade of green and it only cost $300!"
A small sitting area is adorned with a glamorous black-and-white photo of Hedy Lamarr, a Topanga Canyon flea market find, and two chairs, reupholstered by Praxis Custom Frame & Upholstery in Burbank in a vintage tropical print bark cloth. Hand-painted words and phrases that appear throughout Charlie's are courtesy of young Australian artist Luke Chiswell. "He just happened to be in L.A., so I asked him to come 'round and do a few things for us," Weir said. "He wrote 'Friends Welcome' on the front door, which is quite sweet, and "generosity" on a dustpan I bought at the Rose Bowl."
When it came time to choose wall colors, the designer became one brand's newest and most ardent devotee. "I'd never used Farrow and Ball paint before and always wondered what all the fuss was about, but they really do make the most wonderful colors," she said. Going for a more somber mood, she choose Railings, an inky off-black, for the writers room, Green Blue, a calming combo of the two colors, for the entrance, and Pink Ground, a soft blush, for everything else.
"Finding the right pink was really important," Weir said. "L.A. has such a lovely, golden light, so I wanted to take advantage of that while also working with color. My aim was to make it warm and bright and beautiful." And did she? "Well," she said with a laugh, "I'm happy with it!"
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