Something as simple as a doorknob—or the placement of a light switch—is all it takes to change someone’s perspective. That was the case for photographers Ivan Feign and Kat Phillips when they brought in Toni Lewis and Marc Schoeplein of Lewis Schoeplein Architects to overhaul the design of their circa-1940 Mar Vista bungalow.
When first-time homebuyers Feign and Phillips went searching for a home in spring 2016, they wanted to stay on the west side of the city. The couple was hoping to uncover a fixer-upper that they could make their own, so when they saw the Mar Vista house, a well-built structure rife with poor remodel choices on the back of the structure, they knew they had a good option on their hands. Phillips was particularly interested.
“She thought this house had potential, but it was also livable at the time, so we didn’t have to immediately get on with it,” Feign explains. “We moved in for five months before we ended up going ahead and getting it ready to renovate.”
The house afforded the couple a partly suburban lifestyle, yard and all, along with access to the rest of the city. “You’re still about 30 minutes away from everything because we’re close to the 405 and the 10,” Feign says.
They closed on the house in March 2016 and began searching for someone to help them reimagine the space. They were particularly drawn to kitchen design that incorporated bright white and color accents, since Feign needed a great place to photograph for clients, many of which are food-related. After a few lackluster walkthroughs with other firms, they were delighted with Lewis and Schoeplein’s energy and enthusiasm for the project.
“We felt a really different energy from Toni and Marc; they were genuinely interested and excited about working on this project,” says Feign. They also shared elements of Feign and Phillips’s vision for the house even before they spoke in detail about the project. As soon as they walked in, for example, the architects saw the opportunity to rearrange the flow from room to room—a change Feign and Phillips had also been discussing.
Lewis Schoeplein’s use of color was another aspect of the practice that drew Feign and Phillips to their work. They didn’t want the space to read as cold with too much white, so they chose to use generous swaths of color in the most frequently used rooms, including the kitchen and bathrooms. They were also excited by the firm’s use of large windows and sliding doors. “We really wanted that indoor-outdoor experience,” Feign says.
Even though Feign and Phillips moved to North Carolina for six months at the start of the renovation, in what Feign calls their “East Coast adventure,” permitting was slow going. That meant they returned to Los Angeles right as construction began, and they took up residence in a small nearby apartment until it was finished.
When Lewis and Schoeplein first visited the home, they knew immediately that they were not going to be able to save the back. “There was this concept of, ‘Could we just remodel it?’ and I walked in the door and said ‘I’m really sorry, but we have to tear down the whole back of the house,’” Lewis says.
The decision was advantageous: It allowed for the reconfiguration of the front part of the house, primarily relocating the landlocked kitchen to open up onto the backyard, the gravel courtyard, and a new deck, which Lewis says is the best part of the property because of the view.
Removing the back part of the house also afforded the opportunity to build an addition with some height, making it feel like it was its “own animal, springing off of the roof lines of the old house,” says Lewis. Since the intervention they were making was more contemporary than period, the architects and homeowners agreed to alter the exterior of the bungalow, cladding most of it in tricolor concrete board and repainting the stucco to match.
“What’s great about the concrete board is that it’s no maintenance, no fuss, so once it’s up there they never have to deal with it again,” Lewis says.
Only the living room and dining room were left untouched, and a row of sliding doors down a hallway now opens up to the back, framing the courtyard in glass. The deck, Lewis says, provides a more intimate space if it’s just Feign and Phillips hanging out, and a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor living.
The addition is home to a master bedroom and bathroom, with floor-to-ceiling windows, angled ceilings, and an additional private deck. Lewis says they wanted to “incorporate color wherever we could in splashes,” which is evident in the cheery yellow kitchen backsplash, the master bathroom’s deep blue tile, and a second bathroom’s pink cabinetry.
“Everything is bright, sunny, and happy,” Lewis explains. “Not super expensive, but durable. It [was] just about being honest about the way that things are fabricated, and doing a few things well.”
Feign and Phillips appreciated even the smallest touches that the architects brought to the project, like the placement of light switches at hip height, which make them more accessible and don’t mess with sight lines. Feign explains that they knew that the couple would want to hang a lot of art on the wall, and the light switches don’t compete with it.
The handles throughout the house are more typically used in the kinds of commercial projects Lewis Schoeplein often designs. “I see them all the time when I’m driving around, on schools and libraries,” Feign says.
Lewis says the renovation felt like a collaborative “art project,” since the artistic couple was super involved, even helping to arrange tiles for the kitchen backsplash.
The project inspired Feign and Phillips because they felt like they were “working with people who seem to care about everything,” Feign says. “It made me think about architecture differently.”