The Scenario: Fashion designers Momo Suzuki and Alexander Yamaguchi launched their minimalist-chic clothing line Black Crane in 2008. Not long after that, the two—Japanese transplants who met in LA nearly 20 years ago—decided it was time to go looking for their dream house. They pictured a modernist Schindler classic with views and acres, but happily settled for a tree-shaded 1948 Pasadena bungalow built by the seller and his son.
The Challenge: Untouched for decades, the 1,200-square-foot house was gloom-central inside and just about every inch needed tending. “It was bad,” says Momo, “a true fixer.”
The Solution: Momo and Alex’s design skills, they discovered, translate well to interiors. With help from a construction crew, they re-tailored the place themselves, removing walls, replacing windows with French doors, installing a new bath, and generally infusing the rooms with a look that’s equal parts midcentury modern and Japanese serene.
Top Takeaway: 1. “You can change the interior but not the location,” says Momo—so choose a setting that you like. 2. A limited budget forces you to be resourceful. “There are always tons of approaches you can take to a remodel, but we had to be very mindful of costs. We discovered that sometimes you find a better solution by respecting the current condition of the space.” 3. Let “simple and functional” be your mantra.
Photography by Kikuko Usuyama.
Above: Momo in a Black Crane dress. She says their house and fashion are both all about relaxed design that “eliminates the unnecessary.”
Like the faceted bowl? It’s by artist Kelly Lamb. Have a look at her work in our post Kelly Lamb’s Glamorous LA Art Studio.
Above: In the kitchen the couple added new walnut counters and shelves, and relocated existing wall cabinets to nearly ceiling height to lend an airiness. They also introduced new brass hardware to the windows and cupboards. Originally hoping to replace the linoleum floor with organically shaped terracotta tiles, they instead used slate—”it was a third of the price.” They’re contemplating extending the slate partially up a wall.
Above: “We like to have long, leisurely breakfasts, enjoying the views of the big oak trees around the house,” says Momo. Here they’re shown at their eight-foot-long table—”chosen to emphasize an open feeling”—with chairs by Arne Hovmand-Olsen.
Momo and Alex both made their way to the States as teens—she in pursuit of environmental art studies and he as a professional surfer (who subsequently became a graphic designer and then launched his eponymous fashion line, the men’s wear companion to Black Crane). The collector of the family, Alex stalks Scandinavian and Dutch midcentury arcana from foreign vendors on eBay.
Above: “This is how we spend our weekends: My husband likes to take care of all the plants while I read magazines.” They were able to remove the wall between the dining and living rooms by installing a wooden support beam—one of the most involved (and costly) maneuvers of the remodel. They also cut out a window above the sofa to connect the public and private parts of the house.
Above: The couple’s favorite corner of the living room features a Serge Mouille light and a ceramic wall tile installation by LA sculptor Stan Bitters, who got his start in the sixties and is still going strong. The sectional sofa is from VIesso, an LA company that offers custom details and sizes.
Above: The living room is furnished with Alexander’s finds. The daybed is by A. R. Cordemeier and the credenza is from Dutch designer Cees Braakman’s 1950s Japanese series. “Eventually we want to build a superlong counter along the window wall,” Momo says. The oak flooring is original—”fortunately all we had to do was re-sand and add one clear coat.” The windows, too, are original “with some new brass hardware to sharpen the look.”
Above: A wooden threesome: sculptures by Hideki Takayama and Alma Allen, and a piece of cork—a souvenir from a trip to Corsica.
Above: A tile by Stan Bitters and a bronze bowl by Alma Allen.
Above: A collection of midcentury ceramics on another Cees Braakman cabinet from his Japanese series.
Above: To connect indoors and out, Momo and Alexander installed several sets of French doors, including at the entry, shown here (where they replaced a single wood door). After puzzling over how to afford French doors, they used wood-framed windows, $200 a panel, from Home Depot and stained the wood themselves. A friend at Hot Metal Soup in New York made the front handles.
Above: A teak and oak chair by Danish designer Ib Kofod-Larsen and hanging coat rack in the entry. For similar polished teak and chrome racks, see Amsterdam Modern in LA.
Above: The master bedroom overlooks a “green curtain,” thanks to newly installed French doors. The bedding is from Remodelista favorite Matteo and the white curtains are from Ikea: “You don’t need to spend much for everything—we mix high quality with reasonable items; it creates a good balance.”
Above: Momo and Alex keep the house largely pattern- and color-free to maintain Zen calm—but fill it with sculptural shapes, such as these hanging hats.
Above: A window removed from the guest room was put to use in the overhauled bathroom. The couple found a bathtub they liked in a showroom and then tracked down the same model online for less. “We wanted to have a view from the tub, so we moved the bath to the window wall.” They had the mirror fabricated by a local frame shop and then finished it to match their walnut counter. Adds Momo, “Because the space is small, we wanted it to feel more like a room than a bathroom, so we added tile only to the shower area—we bought discontinued subway tile for 99 cents a square foot.”
Above: The toughest design decision? “Figuring out the exterior color for the house,” says Momo. “Always make sure to test it out on a big patch of wall.” She advises looking at the color from a distance and at several points in the day, with and without sunlight. She and Alex considered several options and lived with them for a while before committing to a color they call “gray forest.”
Looking for more DIY remodeling inspiration? Take a look at:
- American Gothic: A Hudson Valley Home Reborn
- Danielle’s DIY Kitchen Remodel for Under $500
- Ikea Upgrade: The Semi-Handmade Kitchen Remodel
- Reader Rehab: A Budget Bath Remodel with Little Luxuries
- On the Road: Hank Bought a Bus
This post is an update; the original ran on October 30, 2014, in our Lessons from Japan issue.