Archive for September 2017

Shannon Wollack of Studio LIFE.STYLE Transforms her Family Home

September 29th, 2017

STUDIO LIFE.STYLE. is a commercial and residential design firm based in West Hollywood, CA. At the helm is Shannon Wollack, Founder and Partner, and Brittany Zwickl, Partner and Principal Designer. Together, Shannon and Brittany have created beautiful residential dwellings, ranging in size and style to meet specific needs of each client, constantly exceeding expectations and pushing their own boundaries as designers. The talented design team at STUDIO LIFE.STYLE. excels at creating a luxurious and polished aesthetic, perfectly balanced with welcoming comfort and functionality. The team also curates an online shop with merchandise sourced from various designers including Chris Earl and BTW Ceramics.

STUDIO LIFE.STYLE.’s commercial interior and exterior design clients include E! Entertainment, Sugar Paper and The Culver Studios and more. Their residential projects span from Los Angeles to Northern California.

Explore their beautiful Berwick home project below.

This Los Angeles House by Finley Grace Design Manages to Be Both Old-World and Totally Modern

September 27th, 2017

“Clean lines with not an arch or a column in sight” was the directive given to Anna Kimmel by a Los Angeles power couple who had tasked her with creating their dream home. After two decades of living in a traditional-style Bel Air mansion, Gracie and David Fermelia, the COO of an investment management firm and a surgeon, respectively, were ready for a change.

It was time, they decided, to say goodbye to the ornate flourishes of their past in favor of a sleeker aesthetic more suited to their rapidly evolving tastes. The couple purchased land in the city’s Brentwood neighborhood, and hired Kimmel, the principal designer at Finley Grace Design. “They wanted a home that was modern, but because they come from a close-knit Greek family and often host their two nieces, it also had to feel warm and inviting,” says Kimmel, who spent the next four years working closely with the Fermelias, both passionate about design; the architect Steve Giannetti; and RT Abbott Constructionto bring this vision to life.

“We wanted to use Old-World materials that would provide texture and patina,” says Kimmel, “but we didn’t want the house to feel like it had been picked up out of the Italian countryside and dropped in L.A.” The solution? Taking warm, rustic materials, like hand-plastered walls and rubble stone, and giving them polished, uniform finishes that look fresh and modern.

When it came to the furniture, Kimmel was inspired by the couple’s fashion choices. “Opening their closet revealed a monochromatic sea of edgy black clothing,” she recalls. Kimmel drew upon their wardrobe to create a masculine, sophisticated aesthetic—think highly lacquered surfaces, leather-fronted case goods, and patinated bronze finishes, softened by layers of luxurious mohair, parchment and long-pile wool rugs.

Selected with painstaking care, each and every piece in the house feels like a work of art. (Not to mention the gorgeous art itself, chosen with the help of consultant Tiffiny Lendrum.) Take, for example, the show-stopping Hervé Van der Straeten light fixture, a mass of interlocking loops that hangs in the dining room. “It was a challenge trying to balance so many curated pieces in one space without it resulting in an art gallery feel,” says Kimmel. “But ultimately, the time and collaboration that went into each decision resulted in a truly unique and stunning space that feels like home.”

In the family room, curvaceous Vladimir Kagan chairs are paired with a slew of clean-lined pieces, including a bronze-and-leather credenza by BDDW and a Patrick E. Naggar end table. The oversize photographs are by Hans-Christian Schink.

A pair of armchairs by India Mahdavi sit behind the goatskin-and-brass cocktail table from Scala Luxury.

Crafted from a birdseye maple base with a long-haired sheepskin top, the Azadeh Shladovsky ottoman in the master bath is as luxurious as it gets.

The living room of an airy Los Angeles home by Anna Kimmel of Finley Grace Design features a faceted side table by Achille Salvagni, a custom sofa covered in Rogers & Goffigon cashmere, and a Patrick E. Naggarcabinet. A 1946 painting by Stanley Boxer hangs above the minimalist mantel.

Kimmel embraced moody hues in the study. Artworks by Ed Ruscha and John Millei enliven the space, along with a Lucite-and-walnut desk by Hélène Aumont.

A sleek Bruno Moinard chair is pulled up to an Andrée Putman Spacy console, which serves as a desk in one corner of the master bedroom. On top sits a vintage Elio Martinelli Cobra lamp. Above the fireplace, which is decorated with a glamorous bronze screen by John Lyle, is a painting by Annie Lapin.

In a guest bedroom, a KGBL bench upholstered in a bold Métaphores fabric ties into the colors of “X-Ray Heel” by Tyler Shields above the custom bed.

A Cassina sofa in a Rogers & Goffigon fabric and Eric Schmitt cocktail tables make for an elegant sitting area in the master bedroom.


This article was originally published in Architectural Digest on August 4, 2017.

What to know about gentrification before buying a house in LA

September 25th, 2017

This story is part of a first-person series on house hunting in LA. To read more about what’s it like to buy a house in Los Angeles right now, click here.

No Los Angeles house hunting story would be complete without mentioning gentrification. At the center of this hot-button issue is Boyle Heights and not far from it is South LA—one of the neighborhoods in our home search.

It’s not breaking news nor an exaggeration that LA’s got a housing crisis on its hands. A lack of affordable housing, rising home prices, increasing income disparity, and historic “redlining”—a map by the government-backed Home Owners Loan Corporation in 1939 that “crystalized discriminatory lending practices and reinforced racial and class bias in home ownership,” writes KCET’s Ryan Reft—have created a recipe that angrily swirls into the City of Angels’ melting pot narrative.

As two college grads with fairly suburban upbringings who bring in slightly more than the LA median income, my husband and I looked at buying property in South LA as an investment opportunity. We reasoned that if we lived there for three to five years, we’d reap the economic benefits of the soon-to-open Crenshaw Metro line and the Rams Stadium.

Like many other self-professed “mindful” citizens, we recycle our fancy glass kombucha bottles (kidding, maybe), try to buy locally-made goods, and pick up cage-free organic eggs. But in our naiveté, we didn’t immediately consider that our quest to own a home might lead to another Angeleno’s displacement. The neighborhood experts, community leaders, and local officials I spoke with agree that this is main issue in the gentrification debate.

Before we get to the solution of how not to be a gentrifier—the person who buys a short-term home in a lower-income area with the intention of flipping, or a new resident who’s unwilling to be part of the community, according to LA neighborhood experts—it’s necessary to first unravel the subject.

“The displacement issue is absolutely critical in defining [gentrification],” says Dana Cuff, UCLA cityLABdirector and professor of architecture and urban design. Most people indeed think of their homes as investments and everybody wants to see their neighborhoods improve, “[but] the problem is people are displaced unwillingly and they’re priced out of the market in one way or the other,” she tells me.

Low-income renters are the Angelenos most vulnerable to displacement, Cuff says. Although my husband and I previously rented, our steady paychecks and job stability afforded us options when it came down to choosing a new neighborhood. That’s not an advantage shared by many others in LA.

“In the past, there’s been neighborhood change—that’s where the whole ‘filtered down’ theory came from,” explains Cuff. “But that doesn’t work anymore, because there’s not enough housing and almost all the housing being built is only affordable to a very small category of people.”

“Gentrification is the newest manifestation of how [low-income] people continue to get hurt,” says Rudy Espinoza, executive director of the nonprofit organization Leadership for Urban Renewal Network. “We’re saying, ‘You should be able to buy a house; you should just save money,’ but when you’re making $35,000 or less, how do you ever catch up?” he says. “It’s a symptomatic of a capitalist system that is run on a speculative real estate market where values of property magically go up every year. It’s a system that helps people who already have money,” he adds, “and it’s leaving the majority of us behind.”

Boyle Heights residents witnessed this in neighboring (and now-gentrified) communities like Echo Park, Silver Lake, and Highland Park, says Steven Almazan, a public policy master’s student at UC Berkeley and former Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council member who spent two years as a special education teacher at KIPP Sol Academyin East LA.

As new residents began moving to those neighborhoods in the mid-2000s, rents increased and pushed lower-income renters east to Frogtown, Highland Park, Mt. Washington, and Lincoln Heights, to name a few, he says.

Sitting inside local-beloved La Moscata Bakery(which recently underwent its own revitalization) about a mile south from gentrification battle groundWeird Wave Coffee Roasters, Almazan explains why residents of Boyle Heights—a community whose roots in activism was documented in the film East LA Interchange and has become the symbol of the anti-gentrification movement—are defending their neighborhood so zealously.

Enter the controversial openings of Weird Wave and “artwashing” galleries like the now-shuttered PSSST in Boyle Heights, which have pushed the East LA community in the national spotlight. The media has painted the scene as “either you’re for the businesses moving in or you’re for the protesters who want to keep them out,” says Almazan. But “more people are actually in the middle; [they] appreciate good coffee but don’t want to contribute to the eventual displacement of families years down the line.”

The efforts of anti-gentrification activists “are more symbolic than anything,” he says. Artisanal coffee roasters and art galleries are not the sole cause of gentrification but they’re “definitely part of the process, regardless of the intention of the coffee shop owners,” he says. The conversation should instead focus on how newcomers—residents and businesses alike—can integrate within the community. In the case of Weird Wave, Almazan says the owners should have first determined how to best serve the needs of Boyle Heights, where the median income is $34,000.

Though investing—capital or otherwise—in communities also increases the city’s revenue, Almazan has a few of his own ideas for creating healthy communities with mixed incomes, especially in areas that have a track record for resisting low-income housing. Linkage fees are a great step, he says. But he also wants to see more housing policies that give incentives to home buyers to live in a neighborhood for at least a decade, prevent Airbnb-style apartments, or keep people from flipping homes within a year, to name a few.

Luciralia Ibarra, senior city planner with the Los Angeles Department of City Planning, says the city continues to find ways to boost and encourage the production of affordable housing. She cites California’s density bonus program and the recently-signed Unapproved Dwelling Unit Ordinance, “a voluntary program which allows property owners to legalize qualifying unpermitted units, assuming all life-safety conditions are met.”

“Finding long-lasting solutions to fit the needs of each community is challenging [and] what may work for one community may not work for another,” she says.

Complicating things further is the fact that LA is “not static,” says UCLA’s Cuff. “You can look at any city, and it’s always either getting better or getting worse from somebody’s perspective. It’s [either] getting more expensive or getting less expensive,” and any change will always be in and against someone’s favor, she says. LA’s ever-evolving nature “exaggerates the process that leads to gentrification.”

In LA’s current seller’s market, it’s easy for buyers to adopt a no-holds-barred approach (as we did) in order to beat the already cutthroat competition. When it comes to seeking homes in ripe-for-gentrification areas, it’s likely that we aren’t the only ones who forget to consider who’ll be displaced.

“At the end of the day, if you’re going to [buy in a lower-income area], you’re going to displace someone,” says Almazan. “I don’t want to see this as a zero-sum game, [but] how can we leverage the opportunity that already exists in the neighborhood?”

It’s a harsh reality. Throughout our home search my husband and I realized that our problems are first-world compared to the challenges of other residents with far lower incomes.

As the LA-born daughter of Filipino immigrants, I wanted to be mindful of Angelenos whose paths may mirror that of my parents and grandparents. If we moved to South LA, we’d vow to be the kind of people who our neighbors could count on to watch their homes while they’re away and be active members of the community (and yes, send our kids to public school).

So how can prospective LA homebuyers be more mindful in choosing where to live?

“Another way of looking at this might be [to ask], ‘What does it mean to be a member of the 21st century neighborhood?’” says Cuff. You don’t necessarily need to be a homeowner who’s heavily involved in local politics while opting to send your child to a public school instead of a charter or private one.

“But I think we need to do some of those things and contribute in some way to the collective vision of our neighborhood,” she says.

How not to be a gentrifier

Look elsewhere. One hard-to-swallow answer? Don’t buy in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights, says Cuff. “[I know this is] a pretty radical stance that I’m taking and that it feels uncivil,” she says, “but be cautious [about moving] where current residents have an active political protest against neighborhood change. I think that’s being respectful.”

Cuff recommends cities “like Koreatown, El Monte, Pacoima—really amazing neighborhoods where [there hasn’t been] much real estate pressure. Those are the kind of neighborhoods where you could contribute in a way that would be valuable.”

Take a cue from Mr. Rogers. “Talk to your neighbors, introduce yourselves … even if you don’t speak [your neighbor’s] language, you can still nod and say hi,” says Espinoza. “Understand the assets in a community [rather than viewing them] as things that you want to change,” he says.

Plan to live in the neighborhood long-term. “If you’re going to [buy in areas like South LA or Boyle Heights] and are worried about what unintended consequences you may have because of your existence there, I would recommend living there for as long as possible,” Almazan says. “Move into a neighborhood knowing that you’re going to be there for hopefully the rest or the majority of your life.”

Cuff agrees: “Stop thinking of your house as [merely] an investment, and start thinking of it in terms of where you could be a contributing neighbor,” she says. Be willing to volunteer at a local public school—and send your kids there, for that matter.

Play an active role in the community. “I encourage folks to become involved at the civic level and to attend community meetings in order to be a part of the discussion of creating sensible, long-term strategies,” says Luciralia Ibarra, senior city planner within Major Projects in the Department of City Planning.

Adding a constructive voice to the community’s decision-making is key, agrees Cuff. “Your voice [should] be one that adds to existing point of views or adds a new point of view that would not be resisted, but maybe adopted by open-minded people,” she says. “You have to be part of the public sphere of your neighborhood.”

Support the mom ‘n’ pops and nonprofits. Almazan suggests spending money at local minority-owned businesses and donating to local nonprofits working to empower community members. Organizations like LURN, for instance, seek to empower entrepreneurs in the informal economy with low-interest loans and advocate for the legalization of street vending.

Elect officials who prioritize effective solutions to gentrification. “At the end of the day, we have to come up with unconventional, creative policy solutions that address systemically racist policies that have prevented families in low-income neighborhoods from purchasing homes,” says Almazan. “I would argue that the majority of elected officials in LA do not see gentrification as an issue. In the public policy world, a city will intervene on an issue when [they] decide this is an issue impacting the majority of people in a neighborhood.”

Gentrification should be tackled with the same urgency as California’s water crisis, he says, and Angelenos should vote for local and state candidates “who are willing to take the risk of putting their name behind a policy that actually put the needs of the community first before profit.”


This article was originally published on Curbed LA on July 28, 2017.