A Hillside Haven

BY KELLY WOYAN PHOTOGRAPHY BY BENJAMIN ARIFF

A Hillside Haven

The renowned architect, Renzo Piano, famously said, “One of the great beauties of architecture is that each time, it is like life starting all over again.”

For Los Angeles writers, Jeff Timon and Jennifer Johnson, moving out of their Laurel Canyon bungalow in 2003 was the first step in creating their forever home in the hills that they now share with their 11-year-old daughter Ingrid.

Despite a shaky first impression of the house, Jeff Timon remembers seeing enormous potential in a space that was masked in off-putting colors and obtrusive structural elements. “The house felt very 1970’s bachelor pad meets Caribbean bungalow. The windows were horrible and had all different kinds of molding around them. They were reduced in size and poor materials had been used throughout the house,” says Timon. But they fell in love with the sense of openness and opportunity, and decided to embark on a mid-century modern renovation.

“We saw this potential, but didn’t have any money to do anything about it at the time,” says Timon. The couple went room by room and started with simple finishes such as painting the walls a softer white and painting the bright orange tile floors a dark chocolate finish. Slowly but surely they chipped away and in the process found new projects, as well as new problems with things like plumbing and insulation.“There was a kitschy 1970s feel to it, and we lived with it for a while. But then we started looking at the backyard and figured we needed to do something, and that if we got the landscaping done, re-did the pool and made the outdoor living space nice, it might be more commensurate with the interior.” says Jeff.

The couple didn’t know it at the time but this decision is what propelled them toward an eventual massive remodel.

That’s where Los Angeles based architect John Dutton came in, who had been a good friend with the couple for years. Timon approached Dutton with a proposition to renovate the yard and replace the landscaping. However, it wasn’t a big enough project for him to personally design, so he passed it on to an associate in his architectural firm. “That was the beginning, and after a year or two had passed, we finally saved enough money and thought, if we are going to do this we should do it now,” recalls Timon. They went back to Dutton and proposed a larger project in which they’d change all the windows and doors as well as minimize the cavernous spaces in the 2,400 square foot home. The irony was that despite the apparent expansive feel of the rooms, these design choices made the home feel smaller and even unusable in some areas.

“The openness gave a psychologically unsettled feeling. You didn’t have the comfort of something permanent like a wall or structure defining the space around you. So the two mandates Dutton had was to deal with the space issue and bring the home back to its mid-century glory,” says Timon.

Dutton had his work cut out for him, but was the perfect expert to take on the challenge. He’s highly respected in the industry and has trained under Pritzker Prize-winning architects such as Piano, Santiago and Richard Meier. His talent lies in making the ordinary extraordinary. “John is definitely a minimalist. But for him the cleanliness of the lines is important, and he doesn’t ever want that house to call attention to itself. It’s meant to be a more neutral and pleasing backdrop to see what is inside,” says Timon.

Dutton incorporated his signature modern, sleek approach in the design of every element in the house, from the push open cabinets without hardware to utilizing the simple lines on a wall to improve aesthetic appeal and functionality. But halfway through the process, the couple realized they needed to shift focus toward the interior design aspect. That’s when they asked well-known interior designer Louise Voyazis to come on board. “When Louise joined us, that’s when we sort of let our ‘freak flag’ go. It was the perfect representation of what we were trying to go for with the house. A lot of the design elements come from Jennifer working directly with Louise. She is a design magazine and book aficionado. She spends a lot of time, when she has it, looking through them and is always drawn to these particularly rich materials. When you look at our bedroom, it is impossible to figure out how the different ensemble of colors and patterns came together but to my eye it works very well,” says Timon. Their collaboration with Voyazis helped to anchor the house with elements that are colorful, fun yet functional.

Finally, as the interior and exterior renovations were nearly complete, the couple went back to finish the project that got them started in the first place – that backyard. They began to reimagine how to further expand their overall living space. Landscape architect Judy Kameon was the name at the top of Timons’ short list of experts to handle the job. “We used to go all the time to Parker Hotel in Palm Springs, and when it was redone I remember how much we loved the gardens, but it was still young. A few years later we went back to find the most luscious, gorgeous gardens ever. We asked at the time who did it, and they gave us Judy’s name,” remembers Timon.

Kameon worked alongside Dutton as they collaborated to design plans that recreated elements in which an indoor living area mirrors the outdoor space, so both places are functional and aesthetically beautiful. She’s an expert in color design and knows how to create an outdoor living space that often becomes a homeowner’s sanctuary.

Kameon’s designs also included furniture from her husband Erik Otsea’s Plain Air furniture line, an addition that the family loved in the finished product. From the beginning, the Timon-Johnsons were devoted to looking past their home’s quirks and instead diligently restored it to its mid-century greatness.

The husband and wife team, who are television and film writers in LA, saw a blank white page of opportunity when they first bought the house. In the end, it became a creative masterpiece that seamlessly integrated architecture, interior and outdoor design. “We really fell in love with the home when we first saw it. We already knew it had great bones,” says Timon.

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