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Karen and Guy Vidal run the design team Design Vidal, which is known for renovating and restoring historical homes and properties around Los Angeles. They have become the go-to expert for homeowners looking to restore their older beauty and apartment dwellers looking for a stylish and historically significant rental home.
There is definitely something special about living in an older home with lots of charm and character. Purchasing a home that needs a little TLC to return it to its original glory can seem like an overwhelming challenge. Therefore, I was so excited to meet Karen and Guy Vidal and get their expert advice on the biggest challenges and considerations when remodeling historical homes.
LAMPS PLUS: What are a few practical considerations you should pay attention to when purchasing an older property?
DESIGN VIDAL: It's important to do a thorough inspection so you have a good understanding of the condition of the systems (i.e. plumbing, electrical, roof, and foundation). Updating decrepit systems can quickly dwindle your budget, leaving less dollars for visual improvements.
LAMPS PLUS: What is a common mistake people make when restoring older homes?
DESIGN VIDAL: Doing too aggressive a remodel when a contractor that doesn't understand the charm and intricacies of an older home and who has no regard for the architectural value is a common mistake people make when restoring an older home. Many contractors we have worked with are looking for the easy way to do things. It's easier to replace old, ornate but damnaged base molding with new base molding. It's harder for them to repair the old molding. It's easier to replace old wood windows with new vinyl windows. But what's easier for the contractor, is not cheaper for the homeowner. It's often many times cheaper to do the repairs. Contractors often call us for referrals to people who can fix old up-and-down windows or for the name of a shop that sells vintage door hardware. All this effort will also yield a much more beautiful restored look. It is also about recycling old material and being environmentally conscious. We only partner with contractors who understand design.
LAMPS PLUS: What are the biggest challenges when renovating historical homes?
DESIGN VIDAL: A home that's been designated "historical" by a municipality or the state may have restrictions as to remodeling. The demands are often counter intuitive. For example, when replacing an exterior door the owner will want to match the others to preserve the historical look of the home. However, when we remodeled Groucho Marx's former 1936 bungalow in Santa Monica, the city insisted that the new door look markedly different than the rest of the house, to ensure that future generations can distinguish the vintage from the reproduction.
LAMPS PLUS: What is your favorite type of historical home to restore?
DESIGN VIDAL: I can honestly say that I like working in all styles of homes. When we started, we remodeled and designed quite a few California Bungalows, so I have a soft spot for those. Our own home is modern; coming from the East Coast and when I was growing up, you didn't see anything modern. When I moved to Los Angeles, I felt like that was the style I wanted to experience. I started collecting eclectic Mid-Century pieces - the quirkier the better. When Guy and I designed our own house, we did an interpretation of modern with retro details, but livable and functional for our family. I love the challenge of working in so many styles; often I might be doing a Spanish, Craftsman, and modern all at the same time! It can make shopping for smalls kind of confusing because you're pulled in so many directions, but overall it's exciting. It is like playing dress up!
LAMPS PLUS: In general, what paint colors work best in Spanish and Craftsman homes?
DESIGN VIDAL: I love color and I feel like paint is one of the easiest changes to enact with the most immediate impact. I work primarily with Benjamin Moore paint and I'm lucky to have a great local paint store - Jill's Paint in Atwater. Having people who know what they are doing and care about the results makes a huge difference in the whole painting process.
There is a color deck called "Affinity Colors" that is right on. I have favorites that I mix in, more based on my client's preferences and what mood we are trying to create more than whether a home is Spanish or Craftsman. If you go into Jill's Paint and ask for a gallon of "Mascarpone," they will probably ask if you are working with me! That's my go-to white. It manages to be both creamy and bright, which is hard to pull off. Especially in older homes, a white that is too stark is jarring. In Spanish homes, especially if they have the old casement windows and they have been painted (often white), it would be cost prohibitive to try and strip them and sometimes you need to do repairs that would show if you tried to stain the windows. I fake a dark wood trim by painting them brown. It makes a huge difference in the overall vibe in trying to pull out the character. People are afraid of painting brown because it is an easy color to get wrong - you know what I mean! I like Oxford Brown - it's dark and rich, not too much purple or yellow undertones. In Craftsmans, I like warm earthy tones. Greens are nice and right now I'm pulling towards more blue-green shared rather than the sage greens that were so popular. I like Tranquility and Wind Chime.
LAMPS PLUS: When furnishing a classic home, do you stay consistent with the style of the home or do you mix styles?
DESIGN VIDAL: Furnishings are tricky - no one wants to walk into a period home and feel like they are walking on a set. Plus, it is not really practical because we live differently today and have different expectations of a sofa, for instance. Overall, we are larger than in the 1920s.
My guideline is that anything that is built-in should look seamless with the the house. If we make a new opening, the moulding should match the existing trim, etc. Built-ins should look original. Tile can have a vintage feel in terms of both what tile and how it is installed. Actual furnishings are different; the best look is a mix of vintage and modern pieces. For example, mixing a great sofa that is really comfortable and well made with a vintage coffee table. Family pieces that are handed down that don't necessarily match your style, pieces picked up on a trip, something you found at the side of the road - these are all elements that should be welcomed into any home.
Lighting is a great way to set the tone for your home. In a Spanish or Craftsman home, the lighting styles are so specific, it is nice to add some variation. For example, I remodeled a Craftsman kitchen and we opened up to the dining room and used beautiful school house pendants in the kitchen, but juxtaposed with a Nelson Bubble light pendant over the dining room table. In another Craftsman, we used Mica lights throughout, but incorporated some deco pendants that they had picked up years earlier and had stored in their garage. Also, if I am designing a Spanish, I often like to use an exotic element - a Moorish fixture works nicely.
LAMPS PLUS: How do you approach the lighting scheme when designing a space?
DESIGN VIDAL: Generally I avoid recessed lights, except in a very specific situation, say in the kitchen for task lighting. With lighting, it is about form and function. You want the lighting to look a certain way, but you also need to make sure you have enough light. Dimmers are key, that way you can control the intensity. I also personally like specific control. For example, if I have a bathroom with a center fixture and two sconces by the medicine cabinet, I will have two switches - one for the center light and one to control the scones by the medical cabinet.
I also look at factors like ceiling heights, furniture placement, and functionality. Older homes do not have nearly the amount of lighing that we are accustomed to today, so it is a balancing act to figure out how to add lighting and still stay true to the home. Sconces are more common in older homes and often when we are rewiring we will uncover j-boxes that have been buried in the walls over the years and we will make them live. I also may add sconces, especially in living rooms where you don't necessarily want overhead light and in the bedrooms next to the bed for reading. I like to look for opportunities to add drama with the right fixture - drop a large pendant in an entry or high stairwell or pendants hanging from the ceiling on either side of the bed.
LAMPS PLUS: What are your favorite Lamps Plus ceiling lights?
Casa Seville Collection 23" High Outdoor Hanging Light
Schoolhouse Button 12 3/4" Wide Old Bronze Ceiling Light
Images: Courtesy of Design Vidal