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How One Designer Kept a 1920s Los Angeles Mansion Updated - Hommes Studio

How One Designer Kept a 1920s Los Angeles Mansion Updated

Cliff Fong updated a Mediterranean-style Los Angeles mansion, setting the stage for courageous art and iconic modernist furniture.

Style, according to Cliff Fong, is about having a singular sensibility. The interior designer, who operates under the firm name Matt Blacke, worked in fashion. He takes an approach informed by fashion icons’ personal style: “They are never head-to-toe in Saint Laurent or Gucci,” he says. “It is about the mix.”

Cliff Fong

In this 1927 Mediterranean-style Los Angeles mansion, the designer’s philosophy echoes through the home’s various years of art and design. In the dining room, where the original oak paneling is almost a century old. Moreover, the dining table is a 21st-century work by Rick Owens, symbolizing the high-low culture by combining petrified wood and plywood.

The delicately ceiling lamp is 1950s Serge Mouille, whose distinct graphic language thrives in the house’s many vintage Stilnovo lamps and sconces of his design.

Cliff Fong

Fong compares such pieces to a favorite handbag or accessory “things you can always count on to make your look work.”

Cliff Fong

Sonya Roth, Fong’s client, lives here with her three children: 10-year-old Anabel, 7-year-old Colette, and 3-year-old Henry. She and her late husband, Josh Roth, bought the house together in 2017, charmed by the majestic archways that sculpted clear views from one side of the house to the other. They admired many of the original architectural decorations, including the grand spiral staircase curves, but they did not love the outdated finishes.

Cliff Fong

The couple had the dark hardwood floors substituted with neutral shades of reclaimed French marble and the living room’s decorative plaster fireplace replaced with one in 17th-century French limestone.

Cliff Fong

They chose both their materials and their furniture to match the historical weight and authenticity of their art. The couple moved as much toward the artists themselves as they did to their works. “Our collection is mostly our friends’ art,” she says.

Cliff Fong

Fong obtained vintage editions of acclaimed midcentury designs by icons of the period to complement their collection pieces. For example, the living room features black leather sofas by Børge Mogensen and Kaare Klint beside an enormous canvas by Stanley Whitney.

Cliff Fong

Even so, when Sonya entertains her guests unavoidably shuffle through a trio of arches into the media room, summoned by a luxurious sectional in vibrant aubergine. It is one of the more colorful aspects in a house that carves to white walls and soft gray rugs that accommodate, rather than compete with, newly acquired works of art.

Cliff Fong

Sonya says she never concerns about how an artwork might collide with the decor. She does, however, have to answer to her children’s potential connoisseurship. “They certainly have opinions,” she says. “They see things through different eyes. As I get older, I have noticed that my kids help keep my eye a little fresh.”

Cliff Fong

Despite the extensive renovation, much of the architecture that the couple initially fell in love with remains. Visitors enter past white columns adorned with decorative reliefs, leading into a double-height atrium that glows in the neon lettering of artist Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon.

Cliff Fong

“It is not easy to make a beautiful old house comfortable for contemporary living,” Fong says, applauding the couple for preserving the essence of the mansion’s history while bringing the interiors up to date.

Cliff Fong

On the other hand, Sonya describes a much more sensitive process: “I just wanted to hang on to everything original that was good.” 

Cliff Fong

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