Howard Bragman, Hollywood’s legendary ‘fixer,’ is known for rehabbing some pretty challenging careers. But even Bragman began to wonder if he had bit off more than he could chew when he initiated work on a mid-century townhouse in the exclusive Toluca Lake section of Los Angeles he bought at the beginning of the COVID lockdown. The townhouse, which hadn’t been touched since it had been built nearly 45 years before and was previously occupied by the proverbial old lady and her cat, needed everything and then some.
At the beginning of the lockdown many people were paralyzed with fear, not knowing what tomorrow held. Bragman was able to look at a time beyond COVID and saw opportunity in the fear and uncertainty. He grabbed the townhouse after it fell out of escrow, and undaunted, began a yearlong renovation project in the beginning of a global pandemic. “I was in the midst of a divorce, I knew I needed to downsize and with a little vision I believed this could be the home I wanted to live in for the final quarter of my life,” explained Bragman. “If I knew then what I know now about how the pandemic affected sick days, work rules and supply chains, I might had second thoughts, but at the time it was too early in the pandemic to understand these issues.”
Bragman, who had renovated homes in LA before, is nothing if not optimistic and brought in his longtime collaborators, Christopher Grubb of Arch-Interiors who he had worked with on multiple homes since the early 1990’s, and Kenneth David Lee of KDL Architects who had done Bragman’s three previous homes. Because of COVID, finding the right contractor was crucial and they hired Blake Bahner of Bahner & Sons, a no-nonsense Texan who gets his tools out of the car when he’s not happy with the way his sub-contractor is doing something.
“I saw this as my sixth and final home in Los Angeles. It was big enough to house everything I needed, but more importantly, nothing I didn’t need. And I’m in a very ‘Marie Kondo phase’ where I want to rid myself of things that no longer give me joy,” Bragman continued. “Plus, I have always loved the lofty ceilings and open spaces of mid-century architecture and this was in a perfect location in a tiny community without any bureaucracy associated with renovation. Additionally, the architecture, while impressive, was not historical in any sense and nothing had to be preserved internally.”
The small four-unit condominium community was built in a quiet corner of Toluca Lake, a longtime home to many Hollywood celebrities drawn to its proximity to the studios, golf courses and the Cahuenga Pass breezes that keep it noticeably cooler than the rest of the San Fernando Valley. It was built by four families who had grown tired of their huge homes as empty nesters and created their own small, gated utopia with a tennis court, huge pool and spa, as well as mature landscaping on a gated ½ acre. Because of that it was built with luxe amenities from the start with en-suite bathrooms, huge closets, a large foyer and a mega-sized kitchen. The units rarely become available.
Architecturally, Kenneth Lee saw beautiful bones and tweaked some doorways, steps and ceilings to offer better flow, a more formal dining area in the great room and some streamlining in the kitchen for the first floor changes.
On the second floor he removed a closet at the top of the stair landing, “too condo,” reconfigured the guest suite and a small eight by 25 foot room with an angled ceiling to create both a guest room with a desk nook and a small home gym. The primary bedroom and closet had been one but were separated and the entrance to the balcony was moved from the bathroom to the main room. These small changes made dramatic differences in the flow of the final project. Because of the peaked ceilings in the second floor there are hidden attics and storage places and it stays surprisingly cool even on the hottest days owing to the almost 21-foot ceilings. And Bragman was able to have 12-foot library shelves, complete with ladder built to house his extensive art book collection.
Almost half of the furniture is repurposed, repositioned and recovered from Bragman’s other house and New York apartment. Most of the colors are based on brass which was used as the standard in the bathroom and then throughout the house. “It harkened back to the 1970’s and at the same time it had a freshness and a richness that was just keenly appropriate for the house and what Christopher and I were trying to achieve. We also picked up golds throughout and these worked well with our blues and grays which dominated the rest of the colors.
When it came time to pick a color for the kitchen I just couldn’t do another white or gray kitchen. The blue I finally chose has been described as the love child of navy and cobalt and I couldn’t be happier with the final selection.”
Same for the art. Bragman has been collecting for more than four decades and was forced to part with some of his most beloved pieces that just didn’t have a wall in the new home.
Nonetheless, the home holds enough art for a small museum and a tribute to Bragman’s voracious and eclectic art collection—from a breathtaking Kenton Nelson oil in the foyer, to an oversized Kim McCarty painting in the Great room to a retro Harry Benson photograph of Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow arriving at Truman Capote’s ‘Black & White Ball,’ to a Rockwell Kent oil pastel in the office and an Annie Liebowitz photo of Billy Wilder on Sunset Boulevard to a Man Ray drawing in the powder room.
Even the laundry room boasts an oversized blow up of Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe and the brilliant Italian poster from ‘Harold and Maude.’ Throughout the rest of the house are Picasso lithographs, Jean Cocteau and Thomas Hart Benton sketches and even a Don Bachardy portrait of the homeowner himself. Yet throughout, the art is clearly a collection and somehow makes sense and relates to the whole in a whimsical, compelling and thought-provoking pastiche of color, lines and motion.
Bragman continues, “I have been fortunate enough to live in some lovely and amazing homes in Los Angeles, but this one is the best, for me for now. You buy a home and hope it will live a certain way and I have to say, this place has met and exceeded every expectation. I wake up in awe of the beauty and great design; I adore my neighbors and we have a true sense of community; and my friends and family who come and visit put their feet up, jump in the pool take a nap and make themselves at home, and I couldn’t ask for a bigger compliment. My out of town company is perhaps, a bit reluctant to leave, but it’s hardly surprising and I’m flattered.”