They found a real estate unicorn: A house with great ‘bones,’ ready for decorating
Tom Balamaci, left and Patrick Wildnauer balanced quality with savvy spending as they re-envisioned their 1927 cottage in Wilshire Vista. They worked with interior designer Amalia Gal. The results combine traditional elegance and personal style.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
The style of the home evokes storybook cottages.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
The entry, before.(Amalia Gal)
Now the entry is wallpapered with a darkly patterned Morris & Co. design purchased from Egg & Dart in Los Angeles.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
The living room, before.(Amalia Gal)
In the living room, there was no delineation between the walls and the ceiling. Molding was installed as a demarcation line. The walls were painted Union Springs in velvet by Dunn Edwards and the ceiling was brushed with flat, Dunn Edwards paint in Historic White.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Details of a bench and a couch in the living room.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
A needlepoint pillow features the likeness of Buckie, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
The living room features a gallery wall.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
The dining room, before.(Amalia Gal)
The dining room, before.(Amalia Gal)
The previously purple dining room was repainted in Silver Lake from Dunn Edwards and features a set of French doors that lead to a private, pergola-covered patio. The table’s 1940s Hitchcock chairs were found on EBay.
LOS ANGELES, CA-DECEMBER 5, 2016: Patrick Wildnauer turns the lights on inside dining room of his English cottage style home, located in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles, that was built in 1927. This is the original light fixture but the shades were changed from pleated white to black and gold. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Decorative plates adorn the dining room.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Ready for company in the dining room.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
The hallway, before.(Amalia Gal)
The hallway formerly featured canned lighting and little else. Now it has sueded wall panels with picture rails to showcase a growing art collection.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
A St. Patrick Byzantine icon, right, is among the items displayed in the hallway.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Master bedroom, before.(Amalia Gal)
Master bedroom, before.(Amalia Gal)
The new wall covering in the master bedroom is by one of the couple’s favorite designers, David Hicks. The window seat is newly covered.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Homeowner Patrick Wildnauer is reflected in a faceted round mirror in the bedroom.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
A bronze Buddha in the bedroom.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Guest room, before.(Amalia Gal)
The redesigned guest room is accented by an armoire from the 1930s.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
The kitchen will be a focus of future updates.(Amalia Gal)
Main bathroom, before.(Amalia Gal)
Deciding against the addition of an en-suite bathroom, the couple renovated the existing space with a decorative, period-appropriate tile floor, new medicine cabinets, paint and light fixtures.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
French doors in the dining room open onto a terrace.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
The exterior of the cottage-style home, which was built in 1927. It has great bones, so the updates so far have been redesigns, not renovations.(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
First-time house hunters Tom Balamaci and Patrick Wildnauer looked at more than 100 houses online and visited 30 in person during a seven-month search.
They finally settled on a 1927 English-inspired cottage in the Wilshire Vista neighborhood. A great layout for entertaining and proximity to work and friends sealed the deal.
“We knew this was the one,” Balamaci said of the three-bedroom, two-bath charmer. “It had traditional style but the kind of openness you want in California.”
Before settling happily ever after into the 1,661-square-foot, storybook-style home, however, there was work to be done.
And that’s where Los Angeles-based interior designer, Amalia Gal came in.
The mission: refresh the home’s dated design details while capitalizing on original architectural elements and showcasing the couple’s personality. And do it all on a budget.
Although a hard-and-fast number wasn’t assigned to expenditures, Gal said smart financial choices and creative sourcing were important.
“The approach was, let’s do this with quality products but not go overboard,” Gal said. High-end finishes and fixtures were balanced with antique and vintage resources found on eBay and One Kings Lane. An unexpected bonus: a stylish 1920s black piano scored for free-to-a-good-home.
D.I.Y. saves dough
In addition, Wildnauer, a senior project manager at Valerio Architects, was able to cut costs by doing some trim and finishing work himself.
“The bones of the house were in good shape; we didn’t need to update the electrical … and the roof was relatively new,” said Balamaci, who works as general manager for the Zoe Report at Rachel Zoe Inc., “so all that stuff we didn’t really want to spend money on had already been done and we were able to come in and focus on the fun stuff, the decorating.”
Gal said the color palette of the home was designed to transition from dark to light as one moves through the space. “The idea was going from dark to medium to lighter and brighter.”
The small, coved entryway was wallpapered with a darkly patterned Morris & Co. design purchased from Egg & Dart in Los Angeles and appointed with an antique table and mirror. Wildnauer installed crown molding, and the ceiling was painted in flat, Dunn Edwards Red Craft to match the walls.
In the living room, a river rock fireplace anchors a generous space lined with paned, cottage windows and capped with a vaulted, barrel ceiling.
“There wasn’t any delineation between the walls and the ceiling,” said Gal, “and Patrick wanted the room to be a dark color … so I came up with the idea of installing molding so we could stop the paint [at the trim line] and keep it from feeling too heavy.” The walls were painted Union Springs in velvet by Dunn Edwards and the ceiling was brushed with flat, Dunn Edwards paint in Historic White.
A gallery wall was also on the wish list. “Most of their pieces were flat and two-dimensional,” said Gal of a collection that included prints from a trip to Istanbul, a map of Los Angeles and an etching from Patrick’s ancestral home in France. “We needed to add some textural pieces to create interest, so they got the mirrors, the antlers and the Hellenic bust.”
Gal designed the gallery layout, and she and Wildnauer executed the installment and added molding.
The wall provides a focal point in the room and adds to the masculinity and character of the space. Orange vintage armchairs were reupholstered in deep blue velvet to coordinate with a Persian area rug and face a long leather sofa from Restoration Hardware.
“They wanted to have a gigantic sofa,” said Gal, “when they have parties, six people can sit on it.”
Guess what’s missing?
A painting of Tom’s grandmother holds pride of place on the mantel, obscuring an awkward niche and lending an aura of family history.
What’s not in the living room? A television. “We like to watch TV,” said Balamaci, “but we didn’t want one in the living room, it’s just too much of a distraction. We wanted this to be a room for conversation when friends are over or for reading or the piano when it’s just us.”
The previously purple dining room was repainted in Silver Lake from Dunn Edwards and features a set of French doors that lead to a private, pergola-covered patio.
“I think my favorite thing about the house is the layout, particularly the dining room,” said Wildnauer.
“For our first Thanksgiving here we had 12 people,” said Balamaci, “and seating extended onto the patio without making it feel like the kid’s table.”
The table’s antique, 1940s Hitchcock chairs were found on eBay. “Honestly, it was a great deal,” said Balamaci, “and we got them for less than the price of going to Pottery Barn.”
The traditional, Federal-style chairs coexist happily with a new, contemporary painting by Lukasz Ratajczyk found on SaatchiArt.com. “It’s a great resource,” said Balamaci, “because it has all media at a variety of price points. It’s a nice way to get a piece of art without breaking the bank.”
Drawing the eye
In the hallway leading from the dining room, Gal said Tom envisioned a dark, glossy passageway, but Patrick feared high-gloss paint would expose imperfections on the vintage plaster walls. As a compromise, Gal used a saturated, Newbury Port paint by Dunn Edwards with a semigloss finish and added sueded wall panels with an art rail and molding for texture. “As they collect more art we plan to layer it on the panels,” said Gal. “It’s a narrow space, but it makes it interesting.”
Since the closet in the master bedroom and the closet in the guest room shared a wall, Gal and the homeowners combined the two to create roomier storage and more organization for the master. “We stole the closet from the guest room,” said Balamaci. “They didn’t have the same amount of clothes in the 1920s that we have now.”
In addition to the re-imagined closet, the master bedroom makeover included new wall coverings by British designer David Hicks, a painted ceiling and a reupholstered window seat. (Their King Charles Spaniel Buckie — named after the pioneer of the geodesic dome, architect Buckminster Fuller — thinks it’s just for her.)
The cozy-meets-glam guest room received a palette inspired by a special piece of art.
“It was a housewarming gift from a good friend,” said Balamaci of an elegantly framed painting that hangs on the wall. “Her father, who was [jeweler] Claude Arpels of Van Cleef and Arpels, painted it for her mother.” Gal painted the room Silver Lake as well to match the painting and added an antique family dresser, crystal chandelier and curtains.
No finish line
In the main bathroom, a dated vanity, mirror and fixtures including the tub filler and shower fittings were replaced with period-appropriate pieces from Restoration Hardware. The white marble counter top and marble tile flooring were coordinated with light colored walls (again, Silver Lake, in a semi-gloss), frameless twin medicine cabinets and a vintage sailing pennant.
“We basically touched the entire house in some way,” said Gal, “and there will be a phase three, but we’re not there yet.”
Future plans include updating the kitchen and den area, and enlarging the half-bathroom into a full bath with a new hallway entrance.
Let the adventures of homeownership begin.
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