Every home keeps the stories of its past inhabitants, but in the case of a 2,200-square-foot apartment in a stately 1923 building in Los Angeles’s Koreatown, the current occupants — he a cinematographer and she a TV writer — are also its resident historians. In 2007, as undergraduates, they hit it off at a party there shortly after the cinematographer had moved into the place with other students from the University of Southern California. In his subsequent years as a tenant, roommates came and went, and the five-bedroom living quarters housed such items as a bar stolen from a film set and a taxidermy deer and wildebeest that faced off across the living room.
After the pair had dated for some time, the writer moved in, though the couple continued sharing the space with roommates. (In 2018, when the duo were married in the building’s courtyard, the officiant asked anyone who had ever lived in the apartment to stand. More than a dozen people rose from their seats.) By then, it was just the newlyweds and a pair of married friends sharing the place. When the latter couple departed in early 2021, the apartment was finally — after all those lives and stories — just theirs. “Over the years we outlasted them all,” says the cinematographer. “We were the last ones standing.”
Soon after, the couple got in touch with Tiffany Howell, the principal of the design firm Night Palm, known for its glamorous music-inspired interiors projects, to help them make the most of the space, which they wanted to feel more elevated for their post-collegiate lives without radically altering its bones. “We both love her world; it’s so romantic and atmospheric,” says the writer. “And we wanted something that would be beautiful in the daytime, with all the wonderful light that comes in, but also a real mood at night.” Howell was immediately intrigued. “I’m very attracted to the story of things,” she explains. “I loved that they’ve been in this space forever, how they got married there, how their best friends now share a hall closet with them,” she says (the couple’s final roommates did not move far away).
As she does with all her projects, Howell assigned this one a name — Hemingway’s Mistress — to help develop a narrative initially informed by how the residents wanted to feel as they walked in. “I kept going back to old Italian apartments,” she explains. “But with a little bit of a ’70s twist.” The mood board she asked the couple to create featured images of tall Parisian apartment doors, the Chateau Marmont in fog and Joan Didion’s 2015 Celine campaign. The group created a playlist to set the tone that included songs by Brian Eno, Sade and David Bowie. “David Bowie was huge throughout,” explains Howell. “I would always say to them: ‘I want your house to feel like David Bowie,’ because yes, he had trends throughout the eras, but he was always timeless and cool.”
The first step was repainting the living room walls, which were a nondescript pale grey that lacked the dynamism Howell desired to instil in the place. “I wanted it to feel slightly feminine but not too pink,” says Howell. “The lighting in their home changes so dramatically, and I kept leaning into what tone of a sunset will look good.” The group decided on Farrow & Ball’s Dead Salmon, a murky pink that appears bright during the day but becomes cozy and matte at night. “It was the perfect colour, very reminiscent of old Italian villas,” the designer says. The sunset also dictated the copper hue of the room’s dramatic velvet curtains, which frame the view of a stone church across the street. “Both he and I are film obsessives,” Howell says of the cinematographer. “So I jump as far ahead as: I want to see the rusty velvet curtains blowing in the wind. We kept referring to it as a David Lynch moment.”
Beyond theatrics, there were also practical considerations to take into account. The cinematographer wanted a place in the living room where he could work on a laptop, drink his morning coffee and watch sports (usually all at once). So, Howell found a way to incorporate a vintage burl Parsons table and black wood Massimo and Lella Vignelli chairs into the room, which she also outfitted with a sculptural off-white Steve Chase sectional from the 1970s and a sizeable ’70s marble coffee table sourced from the Los Angeles furniture store Pop Up Home. When the sun sets, an orange 1970s Nesso table lamp casts a glow on a gestural painting by the Charleston, S.C.-based artist Anne Darby Parker.
Reached through paneled wood bifold doors, the adjacent living space, which previously housed the wildebeest, is now a maximalist dining room, painted in Portola Paints’ Jules, a soft blue gray, with a band of whimsical wallpaper — Plantasia, by House of Hackney, featuring the occasional naked nymph — covering the bottom quarter of the wall. The cinematographer, who in his wife’s words “spiritually aligns with Scandinavian style,” surprised everyone with a fervent interest in wallpaper. “I could never wrap my head around it and make it work,” he says. “But Tiffany was able to take these bombastic prints and balance them in the space so they feel homey.”
That is especially true in the entryway. Howell loved the area’s existing cognac-and-rust checked linoleum floor tile — though her clients historically had not — and seeing the small space as another opportunity for pattern, she and the couple settled on House of Hackney’s Limerence wallpaper, a painterly take on tropical fauna. To complement the print’s palette, she painted the ceiling a glossy rust brown. “I saw it in an old place in Italy and I told them I’d love to implement it somewhere,” says Howell, who finished the ceiling with a goldtone metal Sarfatti globe lamp whose light bounces seductively off the shiny surface.
The same high ceilings and sweeping windows that lend themselves to drama in the living room got a quieter treatment in the bedroom. “They both have kind of crazy work hours,” Howell says of her clients, “so we wanted the bedroom to feel a little womblike, darker and moodier.” She started with the walls — selecting Portola Paints’s Joshua Tree, a rich cognac shade with taupe undertones — and then added a vintage rosewood bedroom set she had stripped of its gloss. She created a reading nook from a Vittorio Introini for Saporiti P60 leather chair and a nesting stone side table she found at Pop Up Home, and relished developing a study-like setup (for some of those crazy hours) from a Georges Frydman asymmetrical writing desk, a vintage Dan Johnson chair and art sourced from the Rose Bowl Flea Market.
The overall effect, as a visitor moves from room to room, is of a cinematic narrative unfolding — and building on the home’s past chapters. “A testament to Tiffany’s skill as a designer is that as soon as the apartment was done, it felt like it had been this way forever,” says the writer. For Howell, the project is still a living thing; she’s working on concepts for the rest of the rooms, guided by the romance of the story that brought her to it in the first place. “One day I went in there, and I filmed the reading nook in the living room with the sun going down, and the window curtains blowing, and we had cards on the table and cocktails and it felt like a movie scene,” she says. “All of us just looked at each other like: That’s it, we did it. We made our movie.”