When Chantal Dussouchaud and Harry Dolman bought this Hollywood Hills home, they had one major objection to it: the massive driveway that dominated the entire front of the house.
Part of the couple’s reaction stemmed from the fact that they had been living in Paris (they are both European natives), where the car culture is much less pronounced than in Southern California.
To them, the driveway was nothing less than shocking, and all the more so because Chantal wanted to convert the existing garage into a workshop for her interior design business and to build a carport on the other side of the house, as was required by codes.
Then, the driveway would be totally useless.
So they did a radical thing: they took out the driveway and replaced it with lawn, an olive tree and a gravel walkway lined with lavender. Did they do the right thing? Or did they hurt the overall value of the home?
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Before Chantal Dussouchaud and Harry Dolman bought their vintage Hollywood home last year, it had been described by real estate agents as either Cape Cod or Regent style.
But by the time the couple were done remodeling the 1937 two-story home, it was decidedly country French, with gravel paths, lavender, olive trees, rosemary, wooden floors, French doors, country antiques and rich imported fabrics made into draperies by Dussouchaud, an interior designer.
And why not? The couple met, married, lived and worked in Paris. She was raised in the south of France, he in Holland. And Dussouchaud, who had worked for L’Oreal as a “trend tracker,” is even more intimate with French style than the average Frenchwoman.
The couple left France last year when Harry, 38, who works in merchandise licensing for Disney, was promoted to a global position at the company’s Burbank headquarters. They were thrilled to move to California.
“L.A. is amazing,” Dussouchaud says. “You have the best modern architecture.”
The couple wanted to find a house convenient to Dolman’s office and close enough to the city for Dussouchaud, 35, to ride to by bicycle.
And they wanted a house with character.
“Coming from Europe, we wanted something old,” Dussouchaud says. They considered Los Feliz until they found a house with two bedrooms, a library and three and a half baths in a quiet, wooded neighborhood at the base of the Hollywood Hills.
At first glance, the house was not appealing, which explains why it had been on the market for seven months. The problems were both outside and inside.
“There was concrete everywhere,” Harry says, recalling that the front of the lot consisted of a wide concrete driveway stretching from the street, past the front door and into the garage.
“Excuse me, but that’s very American,” Dussouchaud says, noting that in Europe the garage is set apart from the house.
And inside, the house was dark, with its windows covered with screens and the draperies closed against any sunlight that managed to penetrate the overgrown trees and shrubs. “It’s too dark for me,” Dussouchaud says.
Still, the house had a certain charm, with its thick moldings, wooden floors and two fireplaces.
To see what could be done to solve the home’s problems, the couple took photographs of the house inside and out. Back at their corporate housing in Burbank, the couple drew the changes they would make right on the photos. A larger window for the kitchen, a bay window in the living room, lawn and gravel paths instead of the driveway. Early in 2000, they bought the house for $717,000.
Initially, the couple planned to spend $100,000 on a major remodel, and then $50,000 more as time went by. Together, they made a list of the changes they wanted to make and rated each from 1 to 5, with 5 being of highest priority. Eventually, they spent $200,000 and got everything done at once.
“In the end, they were all 5s,” Dussouchaud says.
Of utmost importance was a major kitchen remodel, which ate up $45,000 of the budget.
The old kitchen was small and oppressive and still had its original cabinets, by then painted many times over. On the plus side, it had wide-plank fir floors, which fit in well with the couple’s vision of a country kitchen.
To create the spacious kitchen the couple needed — they entertain friends at least twice a week, with Dolman acting as chief chef — they decided to tear down the separating wall of an adjacent laundry room and incorporate that space into the kitchen. Then they decided to eliminate a wall between the kitchen and a breakfast room, also incorporating that into the kitchen. A small window in the breakfast area would be replaced with double French doors.
To plan the kitchen layout, the couple made yet another list. This one specified which items in the kitchen should be visible (teapots, cookbooks, spices, serving dishes, some wine, etc.), which should be low (cleaning stuff, garbage bin, etc.), which should be high, which in drawers and which in baskets.
They also identified task areas: cooking, cleaning, preparation, breakfast, coffee/storage and then placed the various items near those areas.
For the cabinets, they chose wood with raised panels in a style the manufacturer called French Country.
Originally, the plan was to paint the cabinets white, but after they were delivered the couple chose to stay with the natural wood. This blended well with the butcher-block countertops, similar to the counters in the couple’s Paris apartment.
For appliances, the six-burner Viking range was most important, complemented by a Ventahood and, nearby, a stainless-steel Amana refrigerator.
Other plans for the house included a major redo of the master bath, a reconfiguration of the stairwell, the addition of a bay window and recessed lighting in the living room, another French door from the library to a patio, the conversion of a sunroom back to its original status as a veranda for outdoor dining. And a bedroom would be decked out for the first of the four children Dussouchaud hopes for.
The plan also called for the garage to be transformed into a guestroom/workshop for Dussouchaud’s design business, which is called Atelier de Chantal (Chantal’s Workshop). Again, French doors and windows would be added, and another bathroom, and a two-car carport would be added to the side of the house, as required by zoning laws.
For landscaping, the couple wanted the concrete removed and replaced with lawn, olive trees and gravel paths lined with lavender. In the backyard, some of the brick that covered nearly every square inch would be removed to create a small lawn.
To find their contractor, Kieran McKiernan, the couple relied on the recommendation of friends who lived in Beverly Hills. These same friends offered the couple the use of their home for three months while the major construction occurred.
Demolition started April 15, just two weeks after escrow closed. Every workday, Dussouchaud rode her bike from Beverly Hills to Hollywood to oversee the job. She felt comfortable working with the international cast of participants, including McKiernan (Irish), kitchen specialist Julia Spillman (English), flooring contractor David Nikzad (Iranian) and landscaper Doroteo Gonzalez (Mexican).
It was during construction that the idea came to remove the ceiling of the kitchen up to the rafters. Not knowing exactly what was up there, the contractor poked a hole into the ceiling big enough to see through. It looked like solid, open-beam construction that would look great exposed.
“Let’s do it,” the couple said.
By July 17, the couple were able to move into the house, and it took an additional two months for the entire job to be finished, including the landscaping and an exterior paint job turning the house from a somewhat dreary gray and blue to a crisp white and green.
Looking back, the pair are happy they did the remodeling in one big push, instead of doing one project at a time like they’d seen their friends do.
“Then,” Dolman says, “you’re living in dust all the time.”
When asked to explain what makes her and her husband so attuned to fine living, Dussouchaud offers this explanation:
“When you’re born in Europe, you’re surrounded by beautiful things. We have 13th century chateaux. The Louvre. Fabrics from Belgium and Italy.
“Your eye is used to seeing those things,” she adds. “It’s just part of your world.”
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Project: Whole-house remodel in Hollywood
Designer: Chantal Dussouchaud, homeowner/interior designer, (323) 851-3899.
Contractor: Kieran McKiernan, McKiernan Contracting Corp., Los Angeles, (323) 656-9919.
Additional kitchen design/cabinets: Julia Spillman, the Kitchen Warehouse, (323) 734-1696.
Flooring: David Nikzad, Nikzad Design and Floor Covering, Los Angeles, (310) 657-6662.
Kitchen/bath/door/window hardware: Deco Brass, Tarzana, (818) 345-5481.
Duration: 5 months
Where the money went:
Kitchen — $45,000
Garage conversion — $30,000
Master bathroom — $20,000
Veranda — $20,000
Landscaping — $20,000
Other — $55,000