Rarely does a house thrill like the 1922 Mediterranean Brian Wakil and Susan McDonnell-Wakil bought several years ago in Silver Lake. It exhilarated them for both its colorful past as well as its potentially colorful future.
According to neighbors in this hilly enclave of eclectic homes, cowboy actor Tom Mix built the 2,200 square-foot, multi-level house, which was once surrounded by pastures of grazing horses. For the past several decades the house was owned by vaudeville actress Violet Carlson, who died at age 97. According to her son, Cary Grant, Jeanette MacDonald, and many other stars visited the home.
The future of the home, in Brian’s and Susan’s hands, emerged after a $120,000 remodel and a badly needed infusion of color. Over the years, Carlson had transformed her home into a temple of white. “The walls were painted white,” said Brian, a documentary film maker. “The red tile roof was painted white. The grand piano was white. Floor tiles white. Marble white.”
This blank canvas had a magnetic pull on Susan, an artist. “To me, a house is just a large-scale painting,” she said. Brian, on the other hand, was agog over the living room’s Byzantine-shaped windows and doors, the lofty wood ceiling and the fireplace inset with exquisite Bechtel tiles. “Gotta have it,” Brian proclaimed as he set foot in the room. Not since childhood had he experienced “the feeling inside that I wanted something so bad I couldn’t stand it.”
Some decisions in the remodel were easy (replace antiquated plumbing and wiring, install a new tile roof), but some called for experimentation. While the exterior was sand-blasted and replastered in a light mocha shade, Susan struggled to find the right trim color before realizing that white was ideal.
“Sometimes it’s best to restrain yourself,” she said. Inside, restraint lessened. The living room ceiling took several coats of a dark pumpkin hue, a bathroom got purple cabinets, a hallway was painted yellow ochre under a wash of red, and the guest room was painted a pale blue-lavender.
The choice of kitchen colors required serious thought. It would be easy to repaint if tastes changed, but the tile floor would be fairly permanent, and the investment in custom-stained Shaker-style cabinets, as well as the granite counters, would be substantial. “You don’t make a mistake on cabinets,” Brian emphasized.
From the beginning, Susan knew she wanted green walls and ceilings in the kitchen and breakfast nook, along with burnished red cabinets. Getting the green just right took some doing, and she mixed at least 15 shades in her studio before hitting on the right shade, kind of a milky lime green.
“Green can go bad so easily if there’s too much gray in it, or too much of this or that,” she said. A bit of orange was added to “knock it down.”
It wasn’t simple–in the end, the couple painted the kitchen three times before they were satisfied that Home Depot had matched her color swatch exactly.
For the cabinets, Susan created a hue similar to Chinese orange, or even a Venetian red, and it took the couple two hours with the cabinetmaker’s color mixer to get the shade just right.
Driving home from the cabinet shop, Susan had the swatches of green and red in her lap, along with another swatch of purple that Wakil intended to use for the bathroom cabinets.
Studying the three colors side by side, Susan decided “that’s kind of nice” and added purple trim to the kitchen. It relates comfortably to the brown and black in the veined granite counters and the Hafele brushed nickel cabinet pulls.
In Susan mind, the kitchen colors have stood up after a year: “It’s cheerful without being sweet,” she said. “Hopefully, the goal is you’ll keep paint on the walls for at least five years.”
Sooner or later, though, the colors will surely change. “This is a work in progress,” Brian declared. “It evolves as you evolve.”
Besides, he wondered, “what do you do with a finished house?”
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Project: Remodel and update 1922 Silver Lake house.
Kitchen Cabinets and Pulls–Keystone Cabinetry, North Hollywood, (818) 503-0493
Kitchen Floors and Countertops–Western National Granite and Marble, North Hollywood, (818) 255-0000
Duration: 2 months