Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
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Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house

Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
By Debra Prinzing
Kristan Cunningham soon will have a new prime-time design competition show called “Super Saver Showdown” on Oprah’s OWN. But she’s not ditching the DIY tool kit that made her a favorite for years on HGTV‘s “Design on a Dime.” She invited us inside her new L.A. house, which is a lesson in how contemporary tastes can live within period architecture -- and how mix-and-match design can look more luxurious than it actually costs.  (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
Prompted to relocate last year when their Venice rental house was sold, Cunningham and Jarrell found an imposing, vine-clad stucco house near Griffith Park. Cunningham wasn’t thrilled with the listing photos, but its address was near architectural greatness: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House on the hillside above and his Hollyhock House, visible in the distance. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
Cunningham and Jarrell in their entry, where the arched doors and Kuba cloth rug hint of the mix of styles and periods throughout the house. Cunningham is holding Floyd, Jarrell is holding Bean. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
Simple botanicals in the entry sit on a chest that Cunningham and Jarrell bought for $10 a dozen years ago at the Melrose Trading Post outdoor market. “It was for the first house we owned, and this trunk still has pride of place for me,” Cunningham says. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
The operator painting is one of their favorite possessions, bought at the Long Beach Antique Market for $100. They swapped out the bulb in sconce for an Edison light. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
With 10-foot ceilings, the vast living room called for comparably scaled furniture. They already owned an 8-foot-long leather sofa but felt it needed a companion to fill the room. “We found a 10-foot-long, black leather Chesterfield, which was our only really big purchase for this house,” she says. “It’s been our dream to have one, and we came across an amazing floor sample -- and now the entire room is based around it.” Stacked wood fills the niche to one side of the original plastered fireplace. “The wood makes this a beautiful, textured wall,” Cunningham says. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
One of Cunningham’s favorite vignettes: The palette is neutral enough to allow for wide-ranging furniture and accessories. “Even our Danish furniture makes sense here,” Cunningham says. She added: “It’s the mix of all of the occasional pieces that keeps it casual as well as visually interesting. We like a look that feels curated, not shopped, and ours has taken 15 years to collect.” She has a pair of the brass stag tables bought for $200 at a thrift store on Lankershim Boulevard, where she used to get inexpensive pieces for “Design on a Dime.” She loves the fussy detail paired with the simple lines of the chair. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
Bean naps on the sofa. Cunningham hesitated when pairing two massive leather sofas -- one black and one brown. But the “guy-dog” factor won over. “We now have 18 linear feet of dog-friendly lounging space,” she said. Tribal pillows and a cream wool rug thrown over the back of one sofa break up the dark mass. If a dog paw scratches the leather, Cunningham just uses a little vegetable oil to take out the mark. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
A cozy, sunlit corner of the living room. Cunningham and Jarrell use the area daily — she to read, he to play guitar. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
“To me, the best pieces we own are about the memory and the emotion -- not about the thing itself but about the act of acquiring it,” Cunningham says. Included here: agate on a plexiglass stand and a round piece of petrified wood, both from the gift shop of a petrified forest they visited during a trip to Napa. The piece of agate on the little brass stand came from a thrift store in Palm Springs, and the little stone with the thumb-sized indentation was picked up during a morning walk on the beach in Venice. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
Cunningham and Jarrell keep their dinnerware on open shelves, hooks and plate racks in the kitchen — within arm’s reach from the sink and dishwasher. “We’ve consistently used the same scheme over the years: white dishware; simple, clear glassware; a bit of wood and a bit of silver,” Cunningham says. “I’ve never tired of this simple, utilitarian approach.” (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
The 10-foot dining table dates to the 1930s. The Corset chairs were designed by Mariani for Pace Collection in the 1970s. “I’d been coveting them for years and had consistently searched EBay, 1stdibs and other online auctions, but these chairs can go for as much as $1,000 each,” Cunningham says. “I finally found a dealer in Florida selling six for $1,200. That’s like Pottery Barn pricing! So I had them shipped out the moment I could get the guy on the phone.” The chairs, she adds, are comfy enough for people to sit for hours. The vintage teak sideboard is from MidcenturyLA in North Hollywood. “I love the way the teak looks against the bottle-green walls,” Cunningham says. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
Cunningham in her dining room, an intimate gathering spot that proves not every space needs to be light and bright. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
Stacks of books in shades of blue serve as their own design vignettes. Here they act as a bridge to the pearlized blue of the Royal Doulton tea set, which Cunningham and Jarrell found at a Salvation Army store in Chicago a few years ago for about $20. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
Floyd takes a seat in a cozy breakfast room, which Cunningham calls the Land of Misfit Furniture. She bought the round table for $600, “more money than we’d ever spent on anything at the time.” It came from Karen Harautuneian of Hub of the House, a mentor and one of the interior designers for whom Cunningham worked prior to her first television gig as a host for HGTV‘s “Design on a Dime.” Two clear Philippe Starck La Marie chairs and a reupholstered Goodwill love seat provide seating. Cunningham spotted the early California rug for $100 at Wertz Bros. and had it cleaned. “I just found the same rug on Vintagemodern.com for $3,000,” she adds with a note of victory in her voice.  (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
An old, metal medical cabinet bought at Wertz Bros. serves as storage in one of the bathrooms. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
Stairs lead to the second of three floors. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
The master bedroom has a bay of Gothic-style windows that is narrower than the king-size steel canopy bed, requiring Cunningham to float the piece in the center of the room. Cunningham and Jarrell attached two similar-looking, distressed wood toolboxes to the tops of X-base stools, creating one-of-a-kind side tables. “I found the tool boxes while antiquing in West Virginia with Scott’s mother,” Cunningham says. “I always pay a ton to ship things back to Los Angeles, but since I probably spent one-tenth of what those pieces would go for here, it’s still a steal.” The pole sconces are from Anthropologie. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
Another arched doorway, this one leading to a dressing room off the master. The light is actually an outdoor fixture. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
The guest bedroom: Cunningham bid $100 for the 9-by-11 foot embroidered Suzani on EBay and was surprised by her success. It serves as a graphic bedspread, paired with inexpensive bedding from Target. The side tables were $10 buys. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
The light fixture brightens the second-floor room, which is now used as a gym. Lighting is key, as are the vintage hides used as area rugs. “If you have dogs like we do, hides are easier to keep clean than carpeting.” Her favorite source: Michael Levine in downtown L.A. — “always $150 cheaper than everywhere else.” (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
The second-floor hallway has a striped dhurrie rug and stacked luggage from flea markets or yard sales. The luggage has served as nightstands or end tables over the years. Cunningham says they’re great storage for gift bags, ribbons and extra linens. The alabaster light fixture came with the house and is her favorite. Stairs lead to the third-floor office. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
With a fresh coat of white paint, the third-floor office already contained ample built-in cabinetry and bookcases when Cunningham and Jarrell moved in. The pair of photographs showing draftsmen and audio engineers were purchased by Jarrell through Fox, where he worked as an audio engineer. The images represent the couple’s respective trades. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
Cunningham turned books backward to keep the background palette white. Cunningham says she knows her collection so well, she can find exactly what she needs without seeing the spines. The tools belonged to her grandfather, and the antique fan came from her grandmother’s attic. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
Vintage flour sifter turned pencil holder. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Kristan Cunningham’s L.A. house
With the forthcoming OWN show, Cunningham moves from the hands-on DIY gal never seen without her tool belt to TV host who “gets to show up with pretty nails and a nice outfit.” But don’t expect Cunningham to resist the urge to turn nothing into something. “For a decade I have been building and sewing and painting and doing the design work. So I hope to be the guiding force who shows people how to live a little lovelier within their means -- and on a budget.”

More design profiles: Homes of the Times
Home and garden blog: L.A. at Home (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
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