“As soon as I saw that giant shuttered window, there was no turning back,” says designer Kevin Isbell of the Spanish Revival home in the Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles that he and his partner, Gianantonio Corna, now call home. But this wasn’t just any switch of street addresses: With the move, Isbell officially relocated his New York design practice to the West Coast. So, that is to say, those shutters were good enough to inspire a cross-country move.
Isbell was immediately smitten with the architecture of the home (“it’s a style you just don’t get in New York,” he says) and set about creating a design scheme that honored those bones while reflecting his own style.
“A lot of these old bungalows are getting sold and knocked down to build behemoth houses,” says the designer. His process was the opposite: Maintain the original charm while making minimal changes to create a comfortable, personality-filled living space—all while working with an almost entirely blank canvas (Isbell only moved a small amount of his belongings with him, opting instead to source locally for his new home). Here’s how he did it.
“The only think I did in here was paint,” says Isbell of the living room. “I really wanted to keep the simplicity of the finishes, with the white walls and the wood trim.” Such a neutral backdrop allows the architectural elements (like those incredible shutters and an original plaster fireplace) to shine, while acting as a foil to the designer’s eclectic mix of furniture and accessories.
“Since I couldn’t have color so much, I relied on texture and pattern,” explains Isbell. “So that’s where the wicker came in. Then there’s a raw plaster waterfall console in the window with a ’70s lava lamp on top so it’s just a whole textural moment.”
Despite the fact that Isbell bought nearly everything new for the home after relocating, the room has the effect of one layered over time, thanks to those textures—and the selection of nearly all vintage pieces (“everything but the upholstery pieces is vintage,” Isbell says).
To make the most of the room’s sun-drenched quality, the designer opted for an unusual curtain placement, with the rods hung halfway down the window frame. “It’s as low as the law will allow,” quips Isbell. “So you can sit in the room and feel cozy, not like you’re in a fishbowl, but you still get all that light.” The gauzy drapes are made from sari fabric, which Isbell had his workroom fashion into curtain panels.
Since the central dining room is really “the main thoroughfare in the house,” Isbell didn’t want to disrupt the home’s flow by placing a table in the middle of it. Instead, he arranged a unique, octagonal table in a corner with a fitted banquette, creating a cozy solution that “really opened up the space.”
That visual openness also gave Isbell the freedom to go heavier on the pattern and color mixing. Though it may seem bold to some, the designer says “those oranges and blues just really work together to me.”
“It’s prime neighbor watching and it gets great light,” says Isbell of what may be his favorite room in the house, the sunny breakfast spot off of the kitchen. A banquette from Ballard and framed botanical prints against a lime green wall give the tiny room the feel of a cheery greenhouse.
“The palette here just sort of came together,” says Isbell of the mix in his bedroom. “I found the bed fabric first, and then I wanted to respond to the greeny blue with the powdery green on the wall, and then the painting [by Victor Raul-Garcia] was just a beautiful thing that tied it all together.” The bed is flanked by two mismatched chests, partially the result of a shipping misfortune which Isbell turned from lemons to lemonade:
“The one with the beautiful olive wood doors used to be a wall-mounted credenza, but when it shipped cross-country, they smashed every piece of it except for one cabinet section so I called it a nightstand!” The piece on the right is from Wertz Brothers in L.A.
“This is basically where we spend all of our time,” says Isbell. In fact, he says, while we chat by phone, “it’s where I’m talking to you now!” As a Northeast transplant, Isbell relishes all his time outdoors, so creating an outdoor extension of the house was key. “It’s such a luxury after 18 years in New York to have a private outdoor space that is your own. It’s very comforting. Plus, it keeps me tan!”
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