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Interiorssneak peeks

An Eclectic Home Brimming with Custom & Creative Touches in Los Angeles

by Kelli Kehler

Heather Swallow and Atom Willard are no strangers to exploratory DIY projects — whether they’re reviving vintage pieces (and giving them a totally new spin), building a couch together, or deciding to rip all the upper kitchen cabinets off the walls to see what it looks like while the other is out of town (ahem, Heather). This shared quality in Heather, a furniture reviver/designer, and Atom, a musician, is exactly what makes their Los Angeles, CA home so refreshingly unique.

Married for 18 years, Heather and Atom bought this 1,248-square-foot 1948 house 14 years ago after it passed their wishlist requirements (central air, a garage behind the house, and no upgrades — “be careful what you wish for,” they joke) and the avid thrifters have been updating it bit by bit ever since. The distinctly personal and custom feeling their home evokes is a testament to their willingness to express their creativity to try something new, or master a new skill — and the support they have for each other in just going for it.

“We learned that no matter what, our first idea isn’t going to be the end result,” Heather begins. “We will try things and if we’re not completely happy, we just start over. One time when Atom was on tour, I decided that ‘we’ wanted open shelving in the kitchen. I promptly removed all the upper cabinets, patched and painted the walls so that when he came home we could build the open shelving. Then there was the time I thought ‘we’ would really enjoy a pink and red dining room… that was not the case. You really don’t know until you try. I guess we are always evolving in our design style and choices, and are both openminded and patient enough to let the other give it a go, or to listen when one of us says, ‘So, I was thinking…’.”

The outcome of these creative conquests results in a home that had very little detail when they moved in, now thoughtfully layered with their curated collections and clever upgrades. The single-story post-war house features two bedrooms and one bathroom, and has been heavily influenced by both the vision and handiwork of these two DIY go-getters. “We have done 99.6% of all the work here ourselves,” they tell us. “For better or worse, we will take on anything! From major plumbing to wall relocation, from flooring to the concrete countertops and concrete porch and steps, to the structural steel supporting the overhangs front and back. Countless gallons of paint, hours in the attic re-ducting the HVAC system, installing recessed lighting and the landscape design in the front yard. We naively think we can do it all, and we do, just usually takes twice or three times as long.” They add, jokingly, “Please don’t call the city.”

This unfettered approach to home upgrades has boded well for these two, because inevitably the more projects they try their hands at, or more skills they learn and hone, the more their one-of-a-kind style shines through this home. It’s a quality that we’ve always sought after at Design*Sponge over the years, but something that’s always been hard to find. That free-fall into creativity and DIY ambition, and unwavering confidence in what “home” means to those who live there — and no one else.

Heather shares, “We are avid ‘thrifters’ looking to create a beautiful environment with quality pieces on a budget. Which is totally doable, if you are patient. For me, I’m always looking to create that ‘feeling.’ We want our home to be the best it can be through our eyes! It’s a reflection of our aesthetic and our ability to build what we think is a beautiful environment.” I hope you enjoy this truly special home as much as I did. —Kelli

Photography by Atom Willard and John Swallow / @atomwillardisme

Image above: The living room. Heather shares, “The day we finished this couch in our garage was really special. It was the first full sized couch I had done and a true collaboration between the two of us; with the legs and walnut sides being hard-sought solutions on how to frame the fabric portions.”

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The exterior of the home. They share, “We wanted to offset the hard, straight lines of the house with soft flowing plants and pathways. Of course drought-tolerant was important too, but we found a way to incorporate enough gravel, bark, concrete and steel with the desert indigenous plants to feel right.”

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“The yellow flowers of the Desert Museum Palo Verde trees that match the front door were a very happy accident. We enlarged the front porch 80% to try and offset the extra large chimney that once dominated the house. Making the floating steps helps keep it airy and light. We painted our original door five different colors before deciding on the yellow, and then had this door custom made and painted. Doing it all ourselves made it take far too long, but we absolutely love it.”

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Upon walking inside, you find yourself in the living room. “There was one arched doorway in this house when we took ownership and we decided to repeat the theme throughout,” Heather and Atom say. “There were also doors in every opening!”

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A $2 wooden box found at a garage sale (full of vacuum parts that Heather had to negotiate to not take) now is a beautiful custom piece with upholstery by Heather and steel legs by Atom.

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“Right when you come in the front door you’re in our living room. We love that it stays light and airy throughout the day.”

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Heather shares, “We love mixing all sorts of eras and elements in the same area. Piece of marble found in the back yard of an estate sale? That’s a coffee table!”

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Heather elaborates on some of her thrifting/collecting guidelines she follows while searching: “There are very narrow parameters on what qualifies a martini set as okay for me: NO handle and must have matching stirrer!”

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In the living room, the fireplace is yet another facet of the home made custom by Heather and Atom. Heather explains, “Deciding to paint the brick of the fireplace took a while, but once I committed I wished I had done it sooner! We sought out and cut to size the 100-year-old white oak mantel and finally the fireplace looked at home in this room.”

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The dining room holds even more personal touches. “Making leather cushions for this thrifted teak rocker was an exercise in perfect proportions. It only took two tries!”

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Another angle of the dining room. Heather and Atom explain, “This room was always sort of dark but having the mirrors on the entire wall helps keep it bright. We had the freestanding table bases with no table, so we made this from acrylic and plywood. Ovals are hard.”

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A soothing design moment in the dining room. “We’ve been collecting fishing floats [for what feels like] forever, some have seen more use than others, and that makes them each interesting.”

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In the dining room, a scaffolding shelf, thrifted painting and pottery combine to showcase more of Heather and Atom’s signature, collected style.

When you walk in our house there is a feeling of calm. It’s all about that feeling for me, that was our biggest goal – to create a feeling of peacefulness.

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After finding these free Marcel Breuer chairs on Craigslist, Heather revived them by refinishing the wood and replacing the broken-out caning with upholstery. The fabric is “Abstract Azure” by P. Kaufmann.

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“The way old mirrors reflect light is something unique and beautiful.” Art by Pez Khamino, pencil and pastel drawing by Gerard, steel frames made by Atom.

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Heather and Atom share, “When our 20-pound dog made it clear our queen size bed was too small for all three of us, we upsized. This allowed us to make a platform bed from old firedoors and headboard from even more cedar. The hand tufted linen bench with 108 handmade buttons was once a Lane Perception coffee table we reconfigured. The bedspread was once six different vintage grain sacks now sewn together. The Heywood Wakefield Sculptura nightstands are some of the pieces we’ve had the longest.”

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Heather and Atom’s design advice: “Have fun, be patient. Sounds simple, but it’s really all you can do. There are no rules, mix and match. Don’t be in a rush and just let the space show itself to you. It will, eventually, and then you can co-exist with your home as a team that got ‘there’ together.”

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A view from the bedroom looking out to the hallway and the bathroom.

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The kitchen. “Making the concrete countertops was another two-try endeavor, but getting them into place was a neighborhood group effort. So. Heavy.”

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“Our ever-growing collection of stoneware pottery above a wine rack we made from an old parts bin from a repair shop. We may have a pottery problem.”

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Enlarging a bathroom might be a project others would want to outsource, but not Heather and Atom. This is yet another room they tackled themselves. “One of the first projects we took on here was to enlarge the bathroom 40% by deleting a closet from the adjacent room. We moved the toilet 3 feet to allow more room for the nickel round tile from Waterworks to shine. Vintage garage sale mirror and bar cart.”

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The back patio reveals yet another custom project completed by Heather and Atom: this stunning overhang. “We had so many remnants from the cedar planks in the overhang we decided to make these benches and table to match. Also [made of] steel, they are just as heavy as they look.”

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The succulent “presentation station,” as these two call it, designed by Heather and built by Atom in steel.

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“Truly the biggest step into uncharted territory, we built this overhang completely from scratch, just the two of us,” Heather and Atom share. “Getting the 20’ x 6” I-beams up the driveway on skateboards and hand drilling each L-bracket are just small pieces of the story behind this!”

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A clever solution to creating shade: Heather and Atom arranged three shipping containers around the backyard and secured an awning over them (a setup clearly enjoyed by pups Bird, Robert and Louie, from left). “Currently the backyard, we are constantly seeking shade and storage. Shade is a commodity and when you have no trees, it’s hard to come by. We have started our storage and shade endeavor with three 20′ shipping containers. Hardscaping and landscaping, [and] creating zones in a large, open space has been challenging. We have a good base now, and it really comes down to time and money. You have the time, and not the money or the money and not the time.”

 

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Heather and Atom painted the shipping containers the same color as the house to add cohesion, and added plants and this free Craigslist neon sign for a fun twist.

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On the patio, wall tiles by Anthropologie tie in nicely with all of the handmade decor.

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A view that Heather and Atom love coming home to. Beyond their peaceful and custom home, the second best perk is the neighborhood where they live. They share, “We do love our street! We have made many lifelong friends here and enjoy everything from hiking together to working on and helping with each other’s home projects. It’s a little pocket where we all truly care about each other. There is also a mutual interest in wine and cheese.”

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What Heather and Atom are most thankful for: “The ability to try anything we want without risk of offending anyone but ourselves.”

SOURCE LIST

Front Exterior
Exterior paint – “Black Bay” Benjamin Moore
Front door – custom color Benjamin Moore
Biltmore Pots – Bauer Pottery

Living Room
Dyrlund Credenza – Salvation Army
Casa de Cousin Paul Coppola Lights – Barcelona
Blenko Glass – Rose Bowl swap meet and eBay
Planner Group chair by Paul McCobb – gifted
“Victorian Freakazoid Candy” Painting – Sunny Buick
St Tropez pillow – Jonathan Adler
Laurel Lamp – Red Barn Antiques
Large White/Blue/Brown Abstract – Lipton, Goodwill
Nude Painting – Unknown Artist, Goodwill
Pastel Abstract – Perrin, found at a garage sale
Florence Knoll Credenza – Salvation Army
Two-Seater – Arne Norell for Coja, Goodwill
Leather Cushion on two-seater – made by Heather
Tree of Life Wall Hanging – eBay
Turkish Kilm Pillows – eBay
Marble Rounds – Found & Garage Sale
Iron Bases – all made by Atom
Antique Wood Weights – Sacramento Flea Market
“Blob” by Brendon Monroe – Collaboration with Heath Ceramics
Mid Century Candelabra – Zurich Switzerland thrift store
Woodland Furniture Adjustable Wall Unit – Garage Sale
Bauer Swirl Pottery – Vintage
Mid Century Martini Sets – vintage
Iron Screen for Bamboo (outside window) – made by Atom
Grey Sofa – upholstered by Heather with walnut and steel legs by Atom
Dark Blue Abstract Painting – Unknown Artist, Goodwill
Large Biomorphic Metal Light with Metal Base – by Atom, Goodwill
Blue Nude Painting – Unknown Artist, Estate Sale
Cityscape Watercolor – Flea Market Barcelona
Robert Maxwell Sunburst Vases – Garage Sale
Architectural Pottery – Church Thrift Store
Footlocker box bench – upholstered by Heather, legs by Atom
All paintings are in metal frames made by Atom
Benjamin Moore “Super White” on walls and ceiling

Kitchen
Cedar wood and steel shelves – made by Heather & Atom
Concrete countertops – made by Heather & Atom
Subway Tile – Walker Zanger
Vintage Circus Poster – Antique Store Las Vegas
Vintage Metal Automotive Cabinet – garage sale, repurposed by Heather & Atom

Bathroom
Tile – Water Works
Vintage Iron Bar Cart – Garage Sale
Painting by “B” – Goodwill
Vintage Mirror – Garage Sale
Sconces – Restoration Hardware

Bedroom
Cedar wood wall headboard – made by Heather & Atom
Heywood Wakefield Sculptura Dressers and Night Stands – Antique Store
Platform Bed – made by Atom
Perception Lane Coffee Table – repurposed into a bench, tufted top made by Heather
Venice Painting – artist Ponti
Large Abstract – unknown artist
Casa de Cousin Paul “Coppola” Lights
Coverlet – Vintage grain sacks, made by Heather
Collection Vintage Coach Bags
“Beep” Table Lamps Design by Conrad – JCPenny

Dining Room
Paint – Benjamin Moore “Super White”
Built-in bookcases – made by Atom & Heather
Chrome Floor Lamp – thrifted
Pink Lamp Shade – Casa de Cousin Paul, Barcelona
Danish Teak Rocker – Salvation Army, with leather cushions for rocker made by Heather
Marble Table – Found top, with metal legs by Atom
Face Painting & Small Abstract – artist Pez Khamino, Barcelona
Pastel & Pencil Drawing – artist Gerard
Vintage Round Mirrors – collected forever
Vintage scaffolding shelf – Church Thrift Store
Marcel Breuer Chairs – reupholstered by Heather (free on Craigslist)
Teak Credenza – Craigslist
Heywood Wakefield Nesting Tables – Craigslist
Woman Painting – artist Pearlson, Estate Sale
Abstract Painting “Central Park” – artist Jerome Burstyn, Goodwill
Acrylic, Wood and Chrome Dinning Table – made by Atom & Heather

Back Patio/Backyard
Table and benches – made from the remnants from the patio cover by Heather & Atom
Clay roof tile candleholders – Anthropologie
Iron Succulent “Presentation Station” – made by Atom
Pottery – always collecting at Flea Markets, Garage Sales, Estate Sales, Thrift Stores
Malm Fireplace – Craigslist
Shipping Containers – Craigslist
TOYS Sign – Free on Craigslist
Butterfly Chairs – Garage Sale
Large Cement Planters – Free on Craigslist

 

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Comments

  • I love how a . lot of their pieces are second hand items curated together over a period of time! It makes the space so much more individual!

    Paige

  • How beautiful and full of, yes, that feeling. :) It’s just a great home with such fun spaces and a bit of magic in every corner. Just stunning and so wonderfully badass and self-made! Thank you for a great tour!

  • I cannot even emphasize how much I love this entire home! Re-thing is so cool, unique, well thought out, and design fabulous! And the dogs, of course, are simple lovely, too! I’m in awe!

  • Wow! Absolutely stunning home! Love the eclectic feel and the outdoor space with it’s curb appeal is to die for! Thanks for sharing this! Gorgeous home.

  • I am going to miss you, Design Sponge, especially for these beautiful home tours that show so much originality and individuality. This is another fine example. Thank you for letting us get a peek into the lives and homes of such wonderful and talented people.

  • Your home is incredible but I can’t even handle your dogs!!! I also have pitties and a chihuahua. Yours look very happy in their space.

  • This house is killing me, in the BEST way. It seems so mellow and chill, and creative and exciting. A place to brew ideas, or completely relax and let go. So many interesting pieces and choices. Color and light, and shapes and textures. The mirrors just inspire me so much!
    And the attitude of the homeowners toward fixing up their home is so inspiring as well, such a great way to approach things: be patient, try things again and again until you reach the result you want. I am going to try to imitate that :)

  • Such an interesting house full of beautiful things curated so wonderfully. One thing I especially love is the sofa with the most interesting legs ever!!

  • Such an interesting house full of beautifully curated objects. I especially love the sofa with the most interesting legs ever!!!

  • This home is an absolute dream. Unique, thoughtful about the landscape (drought resistant plants and lots of shade), artistic, comfortable. I don’t have anything like the DIY skills these guys have, but there’s still a lot to learn here. It’s a journey! Thank you DS for bringing us these tours.

    Lots of love
    Sophie