Jonathan Togo, the 33-year-old actor who returns to "CSI: Miami" as investigator Ryan Wolfe when the new season premieres Oct. 3, is bemused by the celebrity real estate racket.
Instead of buying into the hype that he needs more house, more furnishings he won't use and more security in the form of a gated neighborhood, Togo is happy with something smaller and more personal, he says. Two years ago he bought his first home, a 1,800-square-foot Midcentury pad in the Hollywood Hills, and he asked himself: "What if I got a tiny house and filled it with the best things I love?"
FOR THE RECORD:
Jonathan Togo: In the Sept. 18 Home section, an article profiling actor Jonathan Togo misspelled the first name of boxer Muhammad Ali as Mohammed. —
The question explains what one sees here: an eclectic mix of vintage and new furnishings, an unexpected photography and print collection, and a personal boxing gym in the garage.
Dressed in gym shorts and a T-shirt with a stylized image of Mohammed Ali, Togo leads a tour through the 1958 post-and-beam structure that contains just a few main rooms, including a combined living-dining-kitchen area that occupies more than half the home.
"From my bedroom I can see the Hollywood sign," Togo says. But the Boston native's road here started at Vassar College in upstate New York, where he graduated from the theater program. He then lived for five years in a Brooklyn doll factory-turned loft. After moving to the West Coast, he initially shared apartments with friends in West Hollywood and Manhattan Beach.
By 2008, Togo found the partially renovated Hollywood Hills house despite an agent who tried to discourage the purchase by labeling the property too small. But Togo was captivated by the canyon, live oaks and eucalyptus trees outside the ceiling-to-floor sliding doors.
"This is like a little tree house, and oddly, it fits me," Togo says. "The view is everything — it's like a giant piece of art."
His business manager introduced him to interior designer Lory Johansson, but instead of handing over a check and waiting for the results, Togo has involved himself in the selection of Midcentury chairs, in reviving the original outdoor lights with a coat of pumpkin orange, and in repurposing a length of bowling lane as a swivel desk for his home office.
"I think it's so weird that people on MTV's 'Cribs' don't choose their own things — like a grand piano in the living room," he says.
"What do I need five bedrooms for? I like it when I can say to friends, 'My designer just sent me a picture from a junk yard.' I like being part of the creative process."
Rob Bolger, a friend and former set costumer on "CSI: Miami," has watched as Togo has morphed from a serial renter to a settled homeowner with a keen sense of his own aesthetic.
"Here's a guy who works on one of the No. 1 TV shows in the world, and his whole style is really a lack of pretentiousness," Bolger says. "Jon is built for comfort, and so is his house."
When they met, Johansson asked Togo to show her photos of his previous apartment. By then, the actor had picked up a vintage Arne Jacobsen chair and a few retro lamps.
"We have the same taste, and we discovered we like the same things," he says, citing a flea market. "When I first moved out here, I went to the Pasadena Rose Bowl and bought a vintage credenza."
Given that he was raised by Sheila Togo, a self-described thrift-store shopper who loves "the hunt," it's no surprise that Togo has an eye for vintage deals.
His father, Michael Togo, worked at the Boston Globe as a commercial artist and graphic designer; his mother, a former visual merchandiser for national retailers, now runs Simply Sheila, a custom workshop that sells pillows and textiles at SoWa, an open market in Boston.
"My mom is a fan of Midcentury pottery," says Togo, gesturing to vases that grace his dining table, just a few of the "mom" touches that have shown up during her visits.
"When he was little, I'd drag him with me," Sheila Togo recalls in a telephone interview from her home in Massachusetts. "Now, when I come to Los Angeles, Jonathan rents me a car, and I hit the thrift shops."
Togo decided to keep the 9-by-9-foot kitchen and two small bathrooms updated by a prior owner, but rickety aluminum-framed sliding doors were swapped for new custom dual-glaze glass. The balcony, accessed by every room and spanning the length of the house, was upgraded with steel cable railings that seemingly disappear and don't compete with the canyon view.
Inside, the once-dark ceilings received a warm creamy finish; their tongue-and-groove boards and exposed beams extend outdoors and reappear as the balcony's overhanging roof. Original transom windows tucked under the roofline on the east and west walls of the house "allow the light to flow through from both sides," says Johansson, who runs the Los Angeles design studio Just Joh with her architect-husband, Mats Johansson.
With lightened ceilings and off-white walls, the small interiors now have breathing room. Walnut-stained bamboo flooring replaced vinyl. An inherited fireplace dominated the main living room wall, so it was removed. Johansson recommended covering the surface with a nubby wool-and-hemp cloth. Its mossy tones complement the plush chenille area rug and "bring indoors the natural feeling of bark and texture that's going on outside," Johansson says.
A 14-foot-long banquette mounted at the base of the fabric-covered wall serves as both a bookcase and additional seating with cushions. While a slender television screen now hangs above, its presence is balanced with a montage of framed prints and photographs that Togo has acquired. He picks up vintage hot rod photos at local flea markets and collects moody black-and-white compositions by photographer Kramer O'Neill. Other artworks feature handguns in tweaked journalistic and pop-art scenes, a wink to Togo's fictional role as a crime scene investigator.
"I use a gun on TV, but I don't own one myself," he says after being asked about the bullet-riddled torso, framed and leaning against a wall. "I spent a day doing target practice with a SWAT team in Miami."
"Ali Wins," a 1964 Harry Benson photograph of Muhammad Ali after he defeated Sonny Liston, is on an adjacent wall. Togo is close to Benson's daughter, Wendy Benson-Landes, and her husband, Michael Landes, fellow actors who gave him the photograph and asked him to be their son Dominic's godfather. ("I like having art from people I know," Togo says.)
His favorite piece is a 1970 photograph of his parents as young art students. It was their housewarming gift to him. Printed in sepia tone, the portrait hangs just inside the doorway of the house.
Johansson and Togo love the futuristic set and costume designs in Terry Gilliam's 1985 film "Brazil," and they have allowed the film's warped-fantasy mood to guide some of their choices.
"Lory calls this look 'steam-punk meets modern,'" Togo says.
The tactile quality of their choices — bamboo, hemp, wool, salvaged factory parts and reclaimed lumber — seems oddly compatible with that organic-industrial vibe. A similar matrix of finishes appears in the dining room, where a refurbished industrial lamp is suspended from a plumbing pipe bracket. Togo and Johansson spent $350 on the chrome and steel fixture and mounted it like a pendant light from a bracket of pipe-and-elbow steel pieces. It hangs above the 9-foot-long vertical grain trestle table, custom fabricated by combining an Urban Hardwoods slab with a forged-steel base. It's surrounded by Eames chairs in white.
Factory parts with uncertain origin appear elsewhere as design solutions. Togo told Johansson he wanted a desk that could be moved when the office had to double as a guest bedroom. The designer foraged a North Hollywood airplane parts warehouse for pieces to fabricate a rotating desk. The contraption swivels on a steel axel and floor-mounted post; the desk top, a section of bowling lane, extends or recedes as needed.
"You learn about L.A. when you work with Lory," Togo says of their forays to offbeat destinations. "It's like having the best design Sherpa."
Johansson conjured a pair of similarly useful reading lamps for Togo's bedroom. The pieces move up or down on steel brackets that hang above cantilevered side tables.
As cool as his bedroom looks, Togo gravitates to the espresso-leather sectional in the living room when he wants to relax with "Duke, the wonder mutt," or perhaps watch a boxing match on television. Johansson has been after him to get a different piece of furniture, but Togo can't part with the sofa, which he likens to a well-worn baseball mitt.
"This is like my cave," he says. "I've got my stuff, my house and my dog."
Says Johansson, "It's an optimistic little house."