Grandiose on a small scale

Times Staff Writer

IT would be hard to find a more house-proud pair. Gary Murphy and Jason La Padura usher guests onto their land like two Trumps showing off a grand acquisition. Listen to La Padura tour the main house and describe the array of lifestyles it affords:

“It’s a seasonal place. We spend colder months here, the front of the house. A fire crackling in the living room, the formal dining room set for guests, the clubby warmth of all this wood and leather. The back is cool and modern, perfect for summer. Rooms open onto the garden. We live and entertain in the kitchen, on the deck and on the lawn.” And then there’s the guesthouse, he adds, nodding toward the stunning cube across the lawn, designed for visiting friends.

The delicious part of the spiel is that it’s all true and all tongue-in-cheek. In a town where status is often measured in square feet, and where bigger houses are often considered better, Murphy and La Padura prove the opposite.


Their house, in Ocean Park, has one bedroom and one bath. It was 1,100 square feet when they bought it in 1997, after they’d rented it for five years.

Then the two asked architect Lorcan O’Herlihy to design a guesthouse and expand the main one -- and wound up adding about 100 square feet to the Big House. “We might have extended the kitchen a bit further,” Murphy says. “But we would have had to disturb our 100-year-old sycamore tree.”

The couple, in their late 40s, have been together 27 years. They met in Manhattan, where apartments they shared as impoverished youths went beyond cozy, teetering toward minuscule. So they were used to small spaces when they moved to Los Angeles and found what more grandiose types might call a modest cottage, but which they’ve come to view as their mini estate.

The house, built in 1906, has the classic Craftsman traits: sloping roof, beamed ceiling, living room fireplace and small fenced gardens at front and back. “It was the second house we looked at -- and when we saw the backyard, with the 100-year-old sycamore, we couldn’t believe we’d have it to ourselves,” La Padura says.

Although the house offered modest-sized rooms, it never felt cramped. “It had plenty of nooks and crannies ... where each of us could be alone with our work and our thoughts,” Murphy says.

They have nothing against bigness. “But if a place has all you need and want, and you’re happy in it, why expand? Enough is enough.”


Of course, the place didn’t exactly have all they needed. The bathroom was ancient, the wiring dangerously antique, the closet space inadequate. Worst of all, for guys who like to cook, the kitchen was outdated and inefficient.

Then there was the matter of sleeping space for their fairly constant stream of guests. La Padura says his mother, sister and brother are at the house for every major holiday and special occasion. Murphy’s five siblings and nine teenage nieces and nephews all live in the East and come to visit.

When the pair engaged O’Herlihy, they didn’t ask for more rooms. Budget constraints prohibited a second floor even if they’d wanted one. “We wanted to keep the original Craftsman aesthetic -- simple and efficient,” Murphy says.

In the main house, they wanted a remodeled kitchen and bath, more closet space, and whatever else O’Herlihy could do to make the place better. In the backyard where the rickety, unused garage sat, they wanted a guesthouse.

It took five years to get their financing together, during which O’Herlihy’s practice soared, and he wasn’t doing small houses anymore. “If we met him now, we couldn’t get him,” Murphy says.

O’Herlihy agrees. Even back then, he says, the lure for him as an architect was not the remodel, but the chance to design a 21st century guesthouse for a 20th century bungalow.


“The question for me was, do you connect the new house, architecturally, with the existing one? Do you emulate the old with the new? Or do you let a whole new architecture exist all on its own?” He chose the latter.

What O’Herlihy came up with is what he calls “a square black box” -- a 680-square-foot, two-story cube that is clad in cement board, a reasonably priced composite that’s rarely used in that way, the architect says.

The light-splashed interior has pale floors, windows placed like artworks, and offers ground-floor living and kitchen space and an upper sleeping loft which opens to an outdoor deck. The guesthouse, so linear and spare, somehow blends seamlessly with the garden and with the new kitchen at the back of the century-old bungalow.

O’Herlihy bumped out the kitchen by 8 feet and redesigned the space. There’s room for informal dining, and a floor-to-ceiling wall of mahogany shelves that house the cookbooks La Padura has collected since he was a teen, along with every Thanksgiving and Christmas issue of Gourmet magazine since 1970.

O’Herlihy used existing space to carve out new bedroom and hall closets, and a simple yet opulent new bath (replete with the architect’s signature skylight and opaque blue-tinged glass).

Murphy, public relations director for the L.A. Opera, and La Padura, an Emmy-nominated casting director (for Disney’s “High School Musical”), say their house is a daily vacation from their city lives. La Padura says, “We love the neighborhood, the people, we’ve put down roots.”


Bettijane Levine can be reached at



Custom and off the shelf

Gary Murphy and Jason La Padura extended their house by only 8 feet in the kitchen, but the redesigned space appears much larger. Working with a contractor, Forrest Poorman, they outfitted their stainless steel kitchen with custom touches. Other items were bought off the shelf.


Sliding doors: Each of the three-panel glass doors with wood frames opens to one side. Custom-made by woodworker Ed Marshall, designconsulting

Bookshelves: Mahogany bookshelves, also custom-made by Marshall, match the cabinetry.

Countertop: CaesarStone from Astonish Marble and Granite, Sun Valley, (818) 771-0611.

Cook top: Miele with six gas burners from Friedmans Appliance Center, Long Beach, (562) 989-7756.

Range hood: Zephyr Milano hood was bought online,

Table: “It’s been my dream to have to a kitchen where I can sit at a table and study my recipes,” La Padura says, from IKEA,

Chairs: Vintage Eames chairs -- one a prop castoff from a TV show, the others found in New York.

Hanging light: Murano blue Italian glass from LightWaves, West Hollywood, (323) 658-6888.

-- Bettijane Levine