Rarely does a house thrill like the 1922 Mediterranean that Brian Wakil and Susan McDonnell-Wakil bought last year in Silver Lake. Both its colorful past and its colorful potential exhilarated them.
According to neighbors in this hilly enclave of eclectic homes, cowboy actor Tom Mix built the 2,200-square-foot, multilevel house, which was once surrounded by pastures of grazing horses that co-starred in the films he made at nearby Tom Mix Studios.
For the last several decades the house was owned by vaudevillian actress Violet Carlson, who had died at age 97. According to her son, who sold the house to the couple, her visitors had included Cary Grant and Jeanette MacDonald. A wall of photos featured Carlson with the likes of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and the Three Stooges.
The future of the home, in Wakil and McDonnell-Wakil's hands, would emerge after a $120,000 remodel and a badly needed infusion of color. Over the years, Carlson, seeking simplicity, had transformed her home into a temple of white.
"The walls were painted white," said Wakil, a documentary filmmaker. "The red tile roof was painted white. The grand piano was white. Floor tiles, white. Marble, white.
"It wasn't tasteless. It was just white."
This blank canvas had a magnetic pull on McDonnell-Wakil, an artist, who until recently had lived in rented apartments that she could not imbue with robustly colored walls. "I've always wanted to do it," she said. "To me, a house is just a large-scale painting."
Her husband, on the other hand, was agog over the living room's Byzantine-shaped windows and doors, the lofty wood ceiling and the fireplace inset with exquisite antique tiles. Happily, the woodwork in this room had escaped the white rite.
"Gotta have it," Wakil proclaimed, as he set foot in the room. Not since childhood had he experienced "the feeling inside that I wanted something so bad I couldn't stand it."
The $300,000 price tag--modest for the area and the architecture--helped.
Some elements of the remodel were easy decisions--replace antiquated plumbing and wiring, install a new tile roof--but some details took a bit of experimentation.
While the exterior was sand-blasted and replastered in a light mocha shade, McDonnell-Wakil struggled to find the right trim color. Resisting any white on the exterior, she painted and repainted one rear window frame at least 10 colors--violet and green among them--before realizing that white was ideal.
"I didn't want the house to be screaming," she recalled. "Sometimes it's best to restrain yourself."
Inside, restraint lessened. The living room ceiling took several coats of a dark pumpkin hue, a bathroom ended up with purple cabinets, a hallway was painted yellow ochre under a wash of red, and the guest room walls and ceiling were painted a pale blue-lavender.
In the kitchen, the choice of colors required the most thought. The walls would be easy to repaint if tastes changed, but the limestone tile floor would be fairly permanent, and the investment in custom-made and custom-stained Shaker-style cabinets, as well as the granite counters, would be substantial.
"You don't make a mistake on cabinets," Wakil emphasized.
From the beginning, McDonnell-Wakil knew she wanted green walls and ceilings in the kitchen and breakfast nook, along with burnished red cabinets. Getting the green just right took some doing, and she mixed at least 15 shades in her studio before hitting on the right shade, kind of a milky lime green.
"Green can go bad so easily if there's too much gray in it, or too much of this or that," she said. A bit of orange was added to "knock it down."
It wasn't simple--in the end, the couple painted the kitchen three times before they were satisfied that Home Depot had matched her color swatch exactly.
For the cabinets, McDonnell-Wakil created a hue similar to Chinese orange, or even a Venetian red, and it took the couple two hours with the cabinetmaker's color mixer to get the shade just right.
Driving home from the cabinet shop, McDonnell-Wakil had the swatches of green and red in her lap, along with another swatch of purple that Wakil intended to use for the bathroom cabinets.
Studying the three colors side by side, McDonnell-Wakil decided "that's kind of nice" and added purple trim to the kitchen. It relates comfortably to the brown and black in the veined granite counters and the Hafele brushed nickel cabinet pulls.
In McDonnell-Wakil's mind, the kitchen colors have stood up after a year: "It's cheerful without being sweet," she said. "Hopefully, the goal is you'll keep paint on the walls for at least five years."
Sooner or later, though, the colors will surely change. "This is a work in progress," Wakil declared. "It evolves as you evolve."
Besides, he wondered, "what do you do with a finished house?"
Kathy Price-Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to have your remodeling project considered for use in the Pardon Our Dust series, write to: Home Editor, SoCal Living, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. Include a daytime phone number.
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* Project: Remodel and update 1922 Silver Lake house.
* Stucco: Jose Angel Rosales Contracting, Sun Valley, (818) 504-2245
* Roof: Hector Jaramillo Roofing, Riverside, (909) 360-0821
* Kitchen cabinets and pulls: Keystone Cabinetry, North Hollywood, (818) 503-0493
* Kitchen floors and counter tops: Western National Granite & Marble, North Hollywood, (818) 255-0000
* Kitchen appliances: Sears
* Duration: Two months
* Cost: $120,000