When Bill Thompson decided to buy a house in Los Angeles, he wasn’t out to find, as he puts it, "a macho place." A mechanical engineer who developed a taste for modern design after an early gig working for an architectural and engineering firm, Thompson yearned mainly for a spare, simple space of his own. Really simple and really spare: The first property he bid on was being used as a Buddhist monastery.
That deal fell through, though, so Thompson elected to gut and redesign a circa-1916 Hollywood bungalow instead. And as he worked with his architect, what eventually emerged was a home that was simultaneously sophisticated, inviting—and clearly for a guy. "Now that I think about it, that’s always what I was after," says Thompson, a 35-year-old bachelor. "But because the design didn’t have to be negotiated with a girlfriend or a wife, I didn’t really think of it as ‘masculine.’ It felt like I was creating my space." The 1,800-square-foot house leavens a clean brand of modernism with a pinch of turn-of-the-20th-century social club; it’s the kind of man cave that Julius Shulman would have loved.
Noah Walker, head of the full-service architectural firm Walker Workshop Design Build, designed and rebuilt the house with input from Thompson in 2009. Walker had recently been laid off from the famed prefab firm Marmol Radziner, and this house was the first design-build project of his new company. Midway through a tour of the place, Walker grins and says, "Definitely a single guy lives here." To prove it, he cracks open the refrigerator. Nearly empty shelves showcase a 12-pack of Coors, some Diet Cokes, and a bottle of Jägermeister.
But that’s the only quintessential bachelor-pad element in the house. In fact, the impression one gets upon stepping through the front door is of an airy, uncluttered home, awash with natural light. Walker’s first step was to knock out most of the bungalow’s interior walls, creating a big open space: The living room, kitchen, and entertainment areas flow one into the other. Then, to ensure that the whole 50-foot-long area gets sun, Walker installed floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that open to the back patio, added more windows along the south wall, and set a big 13-by-7-foot skylight deep into the ceiling over the kitchen. "The center of a house usually gets no light. We really wanted to avoid it being hunting-club dark," he says.
Elsewhere in the house, though, Walker and Thompson subtly embraced the gentlemen’s-club aesthetic (dark colors, lots of wood) by refracting it through a minimalist lens. The look is especially evident in the living room, where spindly wooden skeletons of vintage Danish modern chairs have been stained a deep brown and thickly reupholstered in dark leather. In lieu of a coffee table, three square hunks of wood stand on a black shag rug. Fittingly, this vignette is arranged around a fireplace, which is framed with an unadorned hearth of blackened industrial steel and set into a charcoal-colored wall striped with thin vertical slats of Douglas fir.
The concept was inspired by a photo Thompson saw of a ceiling in a Finnish lodge, which might also explain the only real ornamentation in the area: three skulls hanging on the wall. Keeping with the streamlined-macho theme, they’re cast-resin replicas from Restoration Hardware. "That’s imagery I’ve always responded to," Thompson says of the skulls. "But I’m not really into the idea, when it comes to wall decor, of an animal having lost its life for it."
Like the layout itself, wood details flow from the living room through the rest of the house. Walker framed the kitchen skylight with unfinished two-by-fours, reclaimed from the bungalow’s original walls and remilled. "That’s dense, old-growth Douglas fir, from trees more than 100 years old," Walker says admiringly. "You don’t find that anymore." The same wood, stained darker with a mist of white vinegar and the good offices of steel wool, lines one wall of the master bedroom. And from there, another sliding glass door frames living wood—the orange tree in the backyard. Thompson originally thought the tree demanded too much maintenance and wanted it uprooted—but Walker pushed to let it be. "I felt pretty strongly we needed some growth back there," he says.
The orange tree was a rare sticking point in what Walker describes as a "drama-free" collaboration with Thompson. And probably not just because they share the same spare aesthetic—the two also happen to have been friends since high school. Indeed, another high-school pal, furniture designer Sam Moyer, whose Samuel Moyer Furniture has locations in Los Angeles and New York, made a contribution to the house: the sleek yet solid coffee table made of a thin slab of salvage walnut in the entertainment room (what Thompson calls "the hamburger room" due to its proximity to the patio grill). In true dude fashion, Thompson’s mod lodge was created with the help of his buddies. "I’ve had people come to the house and say, ‘I can’t believe you’ve got friends from high school you put this together with. What kind of high school was that?’" he reports. "At the time it seemed like, you know, we were just a bunch of deadbeats. But I guess there was a future for us."
Rico Gagliano is an arts and culture journalist, producer, and host. Best known for his work in public radio, he spent several years reporting for the business show “Marketplace,” filing stories from England, Ireland, he Netherlands, Sweden, South Korea, India and around the U.S. Currently he co-hosts and co-produces the culture show “The Dinner Party,” which he created with Brendan Francis Newnam. Along with Newnam, he was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s “Big Food Thinkers 40 and Under” and appeared as a guest judge on the Bravo TV shows “Top Chef Masters” and “Rocco’s Dinner Party.” He’s also a certified film geek—he holds a B.A. in Film Studies from Pitt, and an M.F.A. in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute.