L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair)

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By Fred A. Bernstein / Published by Dwell
A couple return their A. Quincy Jones house in Los Angeles to its former glory—and add some soul of their own.

A. Quincy Jones designed some of the most dazzling midcentury houses in California, including Sunnylands—Walter and Leonore Annenberg’s vast estate outside Palm Springs—and the Brody House, in Los Angeles’s Holmby Hills. Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi bought and sold the Brody House last year, perpetuating Jones’s reputation as an architect who catered to the wealthy.

L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 1 of 15 - For their A. Quincy Jones house in Los Angeles, architect Bruce Norelius and his partner, Landis Green, retained and restored core elements, such as the living room’s redwood paneling and concrete-block wall.

For their A. Quincy Jones house in Los Angeles, architect Bruce Norelius and his partner, Landis Green, retained and restored core elements, such as the living room’s redwood paneling and concrete-block wall.

In fact, Jones was determined to prove "that modern architecture could be available at every income level," says Cory Buckner, author of the book A. Quincy Jones. In the late 1940s, Jones set out to improve the quality of tract housing by helping to create a planned community in Brentwood, a neighborhood in Los Angeles. Called Crestwood Hills, it was intended to contain 500 houses: 160 were built, and only 33 survive. 

L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 2 of 15 - "I believe Jones designed these houses to be living things. They’re not museums," says architect and resident Bruce Norelius.

"I believe Jones designed these houses to be living things. They’re not museums," says architect and resident Bruce Norelius.

One of those came on the market in 2009, when the daughters of the original owners decided it was time to sell. Meanwhile, Bruce Norelius, an architect, and his partner, Landis Green, a school administrator, were looking for a house in Brentwood. They had moved from Maine to California when Green became the head of a local private school called Wildwood (which recently hired the adventurous Los Angeles architect Neil Denari to update its campus).

L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 3 of 15 - The carport leads to the entrance.

The carport leads to the entrance.


L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 4 of 15 - Prior to the renovation, the kitchen had a cramped midcentury style.

Prior to the renovation, the kitchen had a cramped midcentury style.

According to Norelius, when they saw the house in Crestwood Hills, "it felt like home." This was despite the fact that it was small—less than 1,200 square feet—and had become, he says, "a little tired, with powder-blue carpeting and heavy draperies," as well as countless coats of paint. The couple knew that they would have to make cosmetic changes but that they "wouldn’t be tearing down any walls." Buying from the family of the original owners underscored their responsibility to maintain the building in as close to its original form as possible.  

L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 5 of 15 - The couple made the most dramatic changes in the kitchen. They installed Carrara marble and custom oiled-steel cabinetry. The artwork is by Cecil Touchon. Near the Wind Crest cooktop is a Bosch oven.

The couple made the most dramatic changes in the kitchen. They installed Carrara marble and custom oiled-steel cabinetry. The artwork is by Cecil Touchon. Near the Wind Crest cooktop is a Bosch oven.

Luckily, they loved that original form. Though the rooms are small, they are enhanced by what Norelius calls Jones’s "rigor and economy." For instance, the posts that support the roof beams also act as doorjambs, eliminating the need for separate framing. Similarly, the roof sheathing, of Douglas fir, is also the ceiling’s finish surface. In Jones’s post-and-beam scheme, Norelius says, "nothing is wasted."

L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 6 of 15 - The pair worked with the existing chunky fireplace and concrete floors.

The pair worked with the existing chunky fireplace and concrete floors.

The first of the three bedrooms became the master, the second the guest room, and the third Norelius’s West Coast office (he also has a studio in Maine). The living-dining room feels large because of its connection to the outdoors. For parties, "we throw all the glass doors open, and everybody congregates outside," says Green. They augmented the landscape, adding acacia, olive trees, and rosemary. "It’s a very stripped-down palette," says Norelius, and also one that uses very little water.

L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 7 of 15 - The duo added custom redwood cabinetry on the dining area side. The pendants are from Birchwood Lighting.

The duo added custom redwood cabinetry on the dining area side. The pendants are from Birchwood Lighting.

Inside, Norelius explains, the couple "replaced some of the really sad plywood with new plywood, a straight-grain vertical fir." They redid the kitchen, installing white-marble countertops and cabinets of oiled and waxed cold-rolled steel. Those aren’t materials Jones would have chosen, but, Norelius notes, "I believe he designed these houses to be living things. They’re not museums, and though I don’t want to change the bones, this isn’t a historical restoration."

L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 8 of 15 - One of the bedrooms became Norelius’s studio, which includes lighting from Artemide above a custom desk.

One of the bedrooms became Norelius’s studio, which includes lighting from Artemide above a custom desk.


L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 9 of 15 - Norelius and Green kept the built-ins in the bedrooms.

Norelius and Green kept the built-ins in the bedrooms.

New owners of midcentury houses often apply white paint to everything, but not Norelius and Green. As Norelius recalls, "We started stripping off white paint, [and] the browns of original timbers and the grays of concrete block were exposed." That made the interiors darker. "We’re people who love light," he says. "But the dark palette is so comforting. It makes the house feel like a shelter."

L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 10 of 15 - One of the bedrooms became a guest room and study, where a portrait of Green’s mother by Evelyn Spence-Reeve hangs above a vintage table.

One of the bedrooms became a guest room and study, where a portrait of Green’s mother by Evelyn Spence-Reeve hangs above a vintage table.

Some of their neighbors are "A. Quincy Jones groupies," Norelius says. "They know where the hardware for the kitchen cabinets was made." Though he and Green haven’t quite achieved this level of devotion, they have been faithful to the architect’s intent. "We take our roles as stewards of this house seriously," he says, "but what really strikes us every single day is how much fun we’re having living in it."

L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 11 of 15 - They used a deep-black hue for the room’s cabinetry and built-in desk.

They used a deep-black hue for the room’s cabinetry and built-in desk.

L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 12 of 15 - In the master bedroom, above the Legnoletto by Alias bed, is a photograph by John Huggins. The lamp is from Ikea. "Nothing is painted—all that stripping is about getting to the natural surfaces of the wood, and the concrete block," Norelius says.

In the master bedroom, above the Legnoletto by Alias bed, is a photograph by John Huggins. The lamp is from Ikea. "Nothing is painted—all that stripping is about getting to the natural surfaces of the wood, and the concrete block," Norelius says.

L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 13 of 15 - The backyard used to be dominated by an unspectacular concrete patio.

The backyard used to be dominated by an unspectacular concrete patio.

L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 14 of 15 - The couple asked Bryan Richards of Real Natives Landscape Design to incorporate drought-tolerant plants into the landscaping. Surrounding a table from CB2 are chairs from Design Within Reach.

The couple asked Bryan Richards of Real Natives Landscape Design to incorporate drought-tolerant plants into the landscaping. Surrounding a table from CB2 are chairs from Design Within Reach.

L.A. Renovation Respects Midcentury Bones (While Adding Some Flair) - Photo 15 of 15 - Crestwood Renovation Floor Plan

Crestwood Renovation Floor Plan