Contemporary Remodel Takes a '50s Home Back to the Future

Envisioning a mid-century modern motif for his second home in Trousdale Estates, an Arizona retiree turned to Erinn Valencich, a rising star in the world of interior design.

Valencich is known for creating spaces that are clean, contemporary and elegant. But warmth is another characteristic in the work of the Sherman Oaks-based designer, who plans to debut her own line of furniture through J. Alexander this fall. "I don't like things too stark," says Valencich, a TV host who also has a pair of shows in development. "I really like keeping it livable and comfortable. Cool, chic."

Partnering with architect Christopher Richartz, Valencich was given free reign in transforming the '50sera brick-clad home in Beverly Hills into a modernist showpiece. The 425-acre tract was part of the Doheny Ranch until the 1950s ,when it was sold to developer Paul Trousdale. He built single-family homes on large lots, many of which boast spectacular views of the L.A. basin.

However, this $1.5 million ground-up remodel is more secluded than most other properties in the neighborhood. And that was just the kind of setting the homeowner-a successful New York businessman now retired in Arizona-wanted for his California retreat.


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"He loves to entertain on that California- style casual level where he's not throwing black-tie dinner parties but just inviting friends over to sit out by the fire pit enjoying good wine and good weather," says Valencich, who takes us to the heart of the renovation.

You really transformed the look of this place, inside and out.

Absolutely. Because the area of Trousdale is predominately mid-century, modern-style homes, we took this brick-clad traditional with low ceilings and blew it up. We made 12-foot walls of glass and brought that midcentury feeling back to the home. Still, I didn't want it to be too-cold-and-too-stark modern. My trademark is doing a contemporary space but making it very warm and inviting, then using a mix of materials.

Can you give us an example?

I wanted to give the powder room a real sexy, Hollywood-style glam. Powder rooms are definitely where you want to go wild because they're small and contained, and if you're entertaining, guests are going to go in there. I did black-and-white (floral) wallpaper and a black-and-white floor of concentric squares. I custom-designed the vanity for a slab glass sink from Kohler that's 3 inches thick. Then I mirrored the ceiling with a hanging pendant. It's pretty, sparkling and glamorous."

Do people tend to go for glamour when remodeling a second home?

Sometimes. Or they just want something different from what they're living in. (This homeowner) wanted a sexy home that feels like a modern hotel. It's clean and crisp, very indoor-outdoor living, which is great for entertaining. I wanted it to be light and airy so I also put in skylights wherever I could.

Did you use any cool new state-of-the-art technology?

Probably one of the coolest pieces of technology is in the master shower. We put in the Kohler DTV system, which completely controls your showering experience from water temperature to music to steam. Kohler's great for always pushing technology. All the fixtures in the house are from them for that reason. They've got great modern design.

Explain how you designed the master bathroom.

I used a lot of neutral tones but then mixed up the texture. I used a stingray-pattern ceramic tile and a marble countertop that has beautiful movements, very much like a sand dune. Above that we did an iridescent glass flanking the mirrors on each vanity. Again, a lot of tonal qualities but everything having a different texture, movement, reflective level so it doesn't all look the same.

Not a fan of sameness are you?

Personally, I hate walking through a house where every bathroom has the same tile. Its like, 'Come on guys! Did you get a good sale or did you just run out of creativity?' I mean, there are so many beautiful materials out there.

You reshaped the pool as part of the remodel?

The pool was a kidney-shaped, dark and funky pool. It had big succulents and lava rock hanging around it, which is definitely outdated. So, we cut that out. We actually gained a lot of room in the back yard by making the pool rectangular.

I also did a Baja shelf, which just gives people more lounging room. It really changed the entire focus of the back yard and made it twice the size just by redoing the pool and changing the landscape. There were huge cypress trees and pine trees all along the property. It made it very dark and closed in. So, we took out all those trees and completely opened it up.

You also opened up the kitchen to the great room.

In L.A., that's what everybody wants because the lifestyle is so much more casual and entertaining is loose. People don't use their living rooms. They're really more into the family room or kitchen.

What kinds of texture did you give the kitchen?

The kitchen is in a gray wood. I did a mirrored backsplash over the entertainment sink. You don't see a lot of mirrored elements in kitchens today but back in the mid-century, at the time when most of the houses in the Trousdale Estates were going up, there were. So, that's a little bit of a throwback.

Did you usually research the era before starting on the project?

I don't do a ton of period research because we're making something designed to feel current now. But having gone to those homes and also being in the industry, you take bits and pieces from the genres and eras you like.

Where do you recommend people who are thinking about remodeling a second home start?

Start by looking through magazines and books and online. Print out pictures of rooms that you like. It's really that simple. Once you gather enough images together of kitchens, of bathrooms, of design elements, of bookcases then you can start seeing what's going to fit your space and how you can adapt it.

Are you working on any second home projects at the moment?

I've just started another one in the Venice Canals. The homeowner is from Denver, but she just loves the California bungalow feel. She really wants to play it up. So, again, here's a house that very much represents the area the second home is in. She's getting that aspect of the California lifestyle that drew her here in the first place.