Home's where the heart is
A close relationship with famous client Joel McHale helps designer Elizabeth Gordon create a family home that's modern yet intimate, writes Jacqueline Tsang
Actor Joel McHale with his wife, Sarah, and two sons, Eddie and Isaac
Hollywood Hills, California
3,900 sq ft (interior)
1,100 sq ft (exterior)
Family room sofa: Mitchell and Bob
Living room sconces: Vaughan Lighting
Wallpapers: Osborne & Little, Kneedler Fauchere, Robert Crowder
Fabrics: Cowtan & Tout, Kravet, Lee Jofa, Donghia, Brunschwig & Fils, Old World Weavers, Randolph and Hein, Hinson
Sinks: Duravit, Kohler
Taps: Kohler, Hansgrohe, Axor, LeFroy Brooks, Franke
Joel McHale knows that his home would likely suffer in no small way at the hands of his two young sons, Eddie and Isaac, but he shrugs: "Everything's going to get beat up, but what can you do?" Not quite the kind of attitude you'd expect a major TV star to have towards his 5,000 sq ft home in Hollywood Hills, but the lead actor from the comedy series Community proves to be more family man than snooty celeb.
"While Joel has refined and sophisticated tastes, he has a very laid-back personality," says Elizabeth Gordon, longtime friend to McHale and his wife Sarah, and the one who designed their Hollywood Hills home. "Having known Joel before he became well known, I had a pretty good idea of what it would be like to work with him. He's always open to new ideas, and that made it fun to come up with interesting spaces for him and his family."
The eponymous owner and principal of Elizabeth Gordon Studio says that when she designed the three-level, neo-colonial-styled home, it was clear that McHale was looking for a space that would be as family-oriented as it was beautiful. "He wanted the spaces to embrace the idiosyncrasies of his family life and reflect his own unique tastes," Gordon remembers. She adds that even though the home was a colonial brick and stucco building, McHale didn't want the interiors to be limited to traditionally styled furnishings. "In an effort to make the spaces feel more modern, I worked to pair together a mix of furnishings and architectural details that played on colour and materials, balancing glamour and formality with warmth and eclecticism."
Sarah McHale contributed significantly to the interior design as well. "Sarah is an artist and very creative in her own right," Gordon says. In certain spaces of the home, for example, Sarah would want to work within a certain colour palette, and Gordon in turn would come up with design concepts within the specified colourway. In other areas, however, the designer would source looks and pieces that aesthetically fed off a particular light fixture or wallpaper that she'd found. Gordon wanted the home to reflect the couple's lifestyle, and she sourced furniture pieces from a wide array of shops, ranging from upper-crust stores and showrooms in Los Angeles, Palm Springs and New York to small antique shops and even flea markets. "The mix of the quirky and the sophisticated defines the interior aesthetic," she explains.
The office, for example, features 1970s vintage Russian posters that McHale's father bought during his Eastern European travels during that time, and they offer the perfect laid-back contrast to the classic Saarinen-inspired tables in the room. In fact, the office is one of McHale's favourite areas in the home. "Joel says that the office and the media room are his favourite spaces," the designer says. "The office is where he can write and be most creative, while the media room is where he spends the most time with his sons when he is home."
The media room is now a cosy, intimate space that is ideal for relaxing or entertaining in, with its plush sofa, fabric-wrapped ottomans, vintage lamps and hide rugs, but it was actually one of the biggest challenges Gordon faced when designing the home. The previous homeowners had made several "oddly shaped" additions to the house when they lived there, she says, and the media room was one of them. The designer came up with a solution by creating a wall-to-wall media cabinet that squared off the space and made it more functional. She then used the leftover triangular space as a hidden storage room, which the family could access through a secret door built into the media cabinet. Gordon also incorporated a graphic-print wallpaper on the ceiling for an element of surprise - "this keeps the space feeling fresh and modern", she says. She did the same thing with the ceiling in the marbled guest bathroom, which is her favourite space in the home. "I love the luxe colour palette and the mix of traditional and modern elements here," she says. "You feel as if you've [been] transported to a different era when you're in this room."
In addition to incorporating an element of surprise in every room, Gordon also applied her signature aesthetic to the home by tailor-making many of the furniture pieces. "When I couldn't find the exact item I wanted for a room, I designed it myself and had it custom-made," she says. As examples, she indicates the custom chrome four-poster bed and vintage light fixtures that add a masculine touch to the master bedroom, not to mention the hammered brass mirror on the living room's ceiling wallpaper that she used to accent the furnishings in the room and detract from the lack of ceiling lighting. Design challenges aside, the home did have its upsides. "The biggest advantage the property had was that it sat against a large national park," Gordon says. "Combined with the already large private backyard, this created many opportunities for large outdoor spaces that could visually extend the interiors of the house." McHale is clearly happy with the end result. "I love this house, this street, this neighbourhood," he says.
Gordon says that what really made the home a dream to work on was the close relationship she enjoyed with her friends and clients. "It was a joy working on this project for Joel and Sarah."