Smack in the heart of Beverly Hills a contemporary house presents a refreshingly modest face street-side. Nothing overly grand, nothing overwrought. Especially in comparison with many of its neighbors. Thank the consortium of Abramson Architects, Magni Kalman Design, MODAA Construction, and the entrepreneur owner, himself a creative and design savvy. Thank, too, a South Africa connection. The architect and owner, both natives, met in L.A. “through the grapevine,” says Trevor Abramson. That was about 15 years ago when the owner and his then-wife were renovating a residence, subsequently sold upon their divorce. On board, too, was James Magni, educated in architecture, but dedicating his practice to interiors and furniture design. Why not call back the collegial cast for this next go-around, renovation of a single-story 1930s bungalow measuring little more than 2,000 square feet. In broad strokes, Abramson created ground-level configurations and designed the second level volume housing a luxurious bed-bath-office suite to add another 1,425 square feet. Magni and his senior designer Heather Bagan took charge of furnishings and finishes.
The project was two-phased. First came the exterior’s new stucco finish and first-floor work. Step through that louvred, Douglas fir entry door for a delightful surprise. An expansive courtyard stands as the literal and figurative heart of the house as well as the renovation’s linchpin. Overflowing with pots and plantings courtesy of landscape designer Art Luna, the area is defined by walls of stacked stone inspired by Abramson’s bicycle trip from Bruges to Amsterdam. It’s a bona fide outdoor room, complete with Piero Lissoni seating and al fresco dining within a covered breezeway.
A few steps up, the indoor dining area marks informal entry to the interior. When its 18-foot-long bi-fold window wall is raised, it is, however, still at one with the courtyard. Next to the Bulthaup kitchen, are the classic Eero Saarinen Tulip table, a David Weeks fixture, and vintage Saarinen chairs Magni was lucky enough to score in Palm Springs. The designer also scored stunning artworks, helping the client assemble a top-notch contemporary collection. “Art is my passion,” he notes. “That and designing furniture.” Here, the end wall is covered by a mirror-polished, hand-etched steel piece by young artist Dean Levin. But the most important piece comes at the formal entry. Joel Morrison’s stainless steel “Nail Abstraction” from his Cartier series (reminding us of Juste un Clou jewelry) stands by the new patinated steel stairway occupying a double-height volume. A mixed-media work by esteemed South African William Kentridge overlooks the mise-en-scene from its wall of walnut, the wood pervasive throughout.
The living room retains its configuration except for a slight ceiling arch. Otherwise this was Magni’s domain: walnut and smoky marble cabinetry, a live oak table à la George Nakashima, custom sectional, and pair of vintage Ib Kofod-Larsen chairs.
Upstairs comes a tough call as to which space stands out most. Maybe it’s the office, situated in front so the owner can look out over treetops as he works at his Roberto Lazzeroni desk, lit up by a vintage Robert Bulmore lamp. Or maybe it’s the serene bedroom with its leather and tweed upholstered bed and Milo Baughman chaise, another vintage piece. But our bet goes to the bathroom cum enviable dressing room with its skylights, Poliform closet, and double-sided vanity composed of a travertine counter and pair of stainless steel-framed, freestanding mirrors incorporating medicine cabinets on their back sides. Space was tight; client asks were intense. Teamwork made it work.