A Sunken Dining Room and Double-Sided Fireplace Bring Openness to This L.A Home

Raised in an Italian family, Sara Matarazzo understood a timeless home where all the furniture was covered in plastic. “The stuff had to last,” she says. But when the Los Angeles-based music exec and her son Lincoln, now 9, stopped by for a birthday party at interior designer Jessica Hansen’s Santa Monica home years ago, she realized it wasn’t the only way. “Their home had that lingering feel, but it wasn’t covered in plastic,” Matarazzo continues. “I didn’t really understand what happened; I just knew it was beautiful.” She recruited Hansen, the founder of Tandem Design, to help her furnish her offices in California and New York City before eventually asking the Portland, Oregon-based designer to own the house to renovate her family in Laurel Canyon.

The home’s 1950s sunken dining room was something Hansen had seen in many California homes before. The awkward space, separated from the adjoining kitchen, entryway and living room by a step, had clearly been a covered patio before being fully enclosed. Matarazzo was determined to keep the feature (it reminded her of a room in one of her childhood homes) while adding a flow feel to the zone that leads to the backyard pool. “We wanted to be able to see our children at all times,” she says.

After streamlining the hardwood floor throughout, Hansen and her design coordinator, Kate Totten, focused on connecting the kitchen to the sunken space with a semi-circular island that extended across the ledge. “I laughed so much because I was a DJ in the ’90s and I ended up with a sink that looks like you could play a set on it,” says Matarazzo. Counter-height stools, positioned on the lower side of the structure, serve as a visual marker for guests to watch their steps and help keep tripping to a minimum.

To keep the new cabinets from looking overly busy, Hansen relegated the oak handles to the lower sage green fronts and went with seamless finger pulls on the taller cabinets. However, behind closed doors, she used a series of complex subjects. She hid unsightly outlets in overhead cabinets “because I hate poking holes in backsplashes,” she says. Her favorite trick is to fit a second compartment in the garbage drawer so the family can grab a new garbage bag once the old one is taken out. That’s one of the reasons Matarazzo best describes her home as practical. “You hear that word and you think of stuffy pants or khaki pants,” she says, laughing. “But Jessica sees it like everything has a meaning. Everything has a purpose.”

The double sided fireplace serves as privacy and noise barrier to the adjoining TV room without detracting from the airy feel of the entertaining area. Hansen and Totten had the dining room side built in metal and wood to create its unique rounded shape, before being finished in the same Limestrong finish used in the master bathroom. “It has that kind of antique flair that gives age to a house you’ve just gutted,” says Totten.

The formal living shelving unit is a firm Hansen favorite (she first used it in her own home and then in clients’ rooms). The piece isn’t actually attached to the walls or ceiling – it’s made up of support rods. “That means you can take it with you when you move,” she says. For Matarazzo’s office, however, the designer opted for a more permanent, customized solution: lavender-colored wooden shelves with an integrated desk. The planks are a porous ash wood, which means they absorb the pigment in a way that still shows the texture of the grain (plus it doesn’t chip over time like paint).

Since the house is only about 2,600 square feet, Hansen and Totten had to work to find space to store clothes as well. Totten stumbled upon a Turkey-based Etsy shop that sold children’s wardrobes and asked if they could make adult-sized wardrobes with a few custom touches for the couple’s master bedroom. The units came flat packed with all the right parts… except for an instruction manual in English. “Due to COVID, I had to work with a TaskRabbit over FaceTime to put them together,” she recalls.

The painting above the couple’s bed ended up defining the house’s brown, cream, pink and copper palette. “It runs throughout the house,” says Matarazzo, who began collecting art when she and her husband Dan were preschoolers in Portland. Leaving many of the walls blank was a deliberate move by Hansen to showcase her pieces as if the house were a gallery of sorts. The same thought trickled into the bathrooms, where the designer introduced matte white plumbing fixtures to ensure the bold tiles remained the focal point.

Finding matching white doorknobs was the easy part. But when it came to the hinges, Totten looked abroad again and finally ended up with fittings from Australia. The catch was that doors in the US are subject to very different specifications. “That meant each door had to either be modified and bought without bore or bored on site,” she says. It was a difficult task for their factory worker, Christ Toavs, but he pulled through, even in the new third bathroom, which used to be a hot water closet.

While Matarazzo’s 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Arabella, didn’t have much opinion on the design of her bedroom, Lincoln’s number one wish was that there should be a reptile in his. On his eighth birthday he got his wish – his gecko is called Balloons. “I think that’s where a lot of the green and fun prints came from,” says Hansen of transferring his interests to decor. Thankfully, these kids don’t have to sit on sticky, plastic-covered sofas or lug coasters from room to room. Instead, they enjoy fluffy velvet, fluffy sheepskin, and cozy wool without fear that things won’t last.

The goods

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