How a highly productive collaboration among a trio of creative Angelenas—and a good dose of Barragán—turned a dark and beleaguered mid-century house into a family home for the ages.
When experimental filmmaker Laura Purdy describes the transformation of her house in Los Angeles’s Los Feliz neighborhood, she speaks glowingly of a “perfect storm” among the women who collaborated on the renovation. For about a year, architect Linda Taalman, landscape designer Laura Cooper, and Purdy met for creative sessions, exchanging ideas as they converged on a detail or spatial sequence. “In a field so often dominated by men, it was unusual to find myself in these intensely fruitful all-female meetings,” recalls Taalman. As the women met—getting critical input from Purdy’s husband Juan Devis and Taalman’s husband and former codirector at Taalman Koch Architecture (TKA), Alan Koch—their children often played together in the background.
Vibrant as that infusion of color appears, the renovation strikes a gentle balance. Taalman extracted the latent design intent of this quiet, mid-century-modern house while imbuing it with the warm character and spirited life stories of Purdy, Devis, a Colombian-born filmmaker and public-television producer, and their two young children. Their 2,000-square-foot home was the 1952 work of 23-year-old Les Guthrie (who later developed Redondo Beach’s King Harbor Marina). Tucked behind a carport on a cul-de-sac, the white-stuccoed building steps down a slope, largely hidden from the street.
Once in their new home, they made few changes, pulling up carpet to reveal existing parquet floors and sandblasting green paint from interior paneling to expose redwood. The main living level provided three side-by-side bedrooms—fully occupied following Simon’s birth, in 2006—and the lower floor a home office and playroom. But, by 2009, they were outgrowing the arrangement and, much as they loved the place, wearying of its dark interiors.
Among the architects approached for remodeling, only TKA proposed adding no additional square footage. “The house had good bones,” Taalman says. “We could solve the shortcomings within the existing envelope by creating a master suite, a grown-up retreat upstairs, and a kids’ zone with bedrooms and a playroom below.” The clients leapt for it.
The process ultimately involved stripping the building to its studs to modify openings and achieve an even finish. Now, from the street, the house appears virtually unchanged—but just over the threshold, an animated dialogue begins. A new floor-to-ceiling window, facing an existing one, transforms the entry hall into a luminous, glass-walled connector, introducing glimpses of color and a visual link between indoor and outdoor spaces. Cork—replacing an eye-stalling patchwork of parquet—gives the entire floor continuity and a soft bounce underfoot, and even runs down steps and up some of the kids’ walls, morphing into a pinboard. Its flecked rhythm echoes the back patio’s round eucalyptus “pavers,” salvaged from a moribund tree. “For every indoor space, I wanted to create an outdoor counterpart,” says Cooper. Through big living-area windows, a black-and-cream-tiled wading pool appears, reading almost like a patterned rug just outside the glass.
Though Taalman and Purdy ardently sought out just the right materials and finishes, the results are remarkably laid-back, with children scampering about and artwork, ranging from playful to provocative, displayed in thoughtful yet unfussy ways.
But for all the womanly energy, it’s unclear if this project embodies a “female sensibility.” Soft, free curves—in the eucalyptus rounds, lush plantings, playroom wallpaper, or an animal hide rug—play against the house’s straight-edged modernism. But what’s feminine and what’s simply expressive? “In Latin America, we’re not afraid of color,” says Devis. “Pink occurs in nature. It’s everywhere in the tropics. For us, it isn’t considered ‘girlie’—I love this pink.”
Just as the stucco reveals the raked process of its creation, the Devis-Purdy House and landscape conveys, most of all, the quality of collaboration that went into their making—and, in the end, the family that brings it all to life.