“It was boring,” Falamaki says of the 860-square-foot condo’s white walls, vinyl floors and beige carpeting. “It was very basic with no character at all.”
But bland surroundings would work for Falamaki, a native of Iran who studied set design at the American Film Institute in Hollywood, and who now works as a freelance designer.
“I’m here now,” he thought. “This is my everyday life. I must enjoy it.”
But to get the two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo from where it was—dull—to where Falamaki wanted to be—dynamic—would cost tens of thousands of dollars, which he did not have. So: he decided to do most of the work himself, and to buy materials and hire professionals as his earnings allowed.
Twenty months and $20,000 later, Falamaki created a colorful, elegant and unique home that he considers a fitting backdrop for his life.
Long before he bought the condo, Falamaki had spent hours thinking and reading about remodeling. His favorite magazines are Architectural Digest and Architectural Record.
“You go to magazines,” he says, “you get ideas.”
To start this project–before he moved in–Falamaki hired a general contractor to alter some walls and change around some plumbing. This allowed him to improve the awkward layouts of the two “standard condo bathrooms” into more usable space.
After one bathroom and one bedroom were livable, Falamaki moved in. One of his biggest priorities was transforming the kitchen, which he considers it the “center of the home” where he enjoys cooking for friends. Specialties include such Persian dishes as kabobs and stews.
Because of his modest budget, Falamaki chose to leave some onerous elements in place, including the plastic, dropped ceiling and the shopworn stove. “It was here,” he says of the latter, “and I hate it.”
To create unique-looking cabinets, Falamaki removed the plywood doors, which had raised panels, and turned them around so the flat side faced out. He then sanded them, stained them yellow, and added a wide rim of flat wood molding and a small “quarter-round” of green molding.
“It’s very easy,” he says of his efforts, and especially so because of the vast home-improvement resources available in this country. In Iran, he points out, “There’s no Home Depot.”
To a few cabinet doors, Falamaki cut out the center panels and had glass inserted by a glass shop.
Falamaki enlarged the kitchen—a neat trick in a condo where adding square footage is typically impossible–by extending the cabinets, counters and tile floor into the adjacent dining room. He built the new cabinets “out of square,” at angles, which correspond with other odd angles he inserted throughout the home.
“Every corner, I tried to experiment with angles,” he says, explaining that he was inspired by the unusual angels of the Staples Center, for which he was hired to made miniature models before it was built.
To add interest to the living room, Falamaki created a new fireplace surround out of a wood frame and plaster, into which he pressed decorative tiles and brass furniture tacks. He got deals on a century-old Dutch table for the dining room, and a couch, chair and coffee table for the living room. He plans to complete the scene with giant, film-noir movie posters.
But Falamaki didn’t confine his time and talents to major rooms. He also wanted to make his hallways interesting. On one wall, he asked the contractor to build out the wall in a curve, and add a lighted cove to hold a shelf, which Falamaki made. With a “cheap paint brush” and a lot of paint and glaze, he added texture and depth to the hallway walls.
In the main bathroom, Falamaki had tile added at unusual angels around the tub and on the counters. He worked closely with the tilesetter, who, Falamaki says, was unaccustomed to out-of-square designs.
Living alone has its advantages and drawbacks during remodeling, he says. On one hand, “You don’t have to argue or compromise; you just do it.” However, he says, “A second opinion is always good.”
To give his condo a greater sense of elegance, Falamaki replaced all the “cheap 10 buck doors” with solid, raised-panel doors made of Douglas fir. He would have replaced the aluminum windows, but the condo’s homeowner’s rules forbid that.
For the final touch, Falamaki hired professionals to install hardwood floors in the living room and dining room.
While the whole-condo remodel was fun for the first year, it became drudgery for Falamaki as it moved into the second year. “Why don’t you finish?” his friends asked.
Finally, the hammers and dropcloths and paintbrushes were put away and the remodel was finished. But once Falamaki can move up into a house, he plans on starting the remodeling process all over again.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he says.
Project: Transform 860-square-foot condominium in Los Angeles from insipid to interesting.
Designer/Owner: Jay Falamaki
Contractor: AFI Inc., Los Angeles, (310) 571-4190
Duration: 20 months
Cost: $20,000 ($8,000 for professional labor, $12,000 for materials)