A Creative Couple's Southern California Dream Home
Samer Fawaz and Bradley Duncan revamp a Spanish-style house with lush outdoor living spaces and a rustic-meets elegant approach
An Orange County McMansion” is how Samer Fawaz describes the California home of his childhood. “There were rooms we couldn’t walk into because of the way they were vacuumed, and we always had to take off our shoes,” he recalls. “In our house, I’m like, Take 'em off if you want—your feet will probably get dirty!”
Welcome to the indoor-outdoor abode of Fawaz and his partner, Bradley Duncan—a 1928 Spanish-style compound in the Atwater Village neighborhood of northeast Los Angeles. Precious the home is not. The salvaged windows are perpetually flung open; the extensive landscaping bleeds into every room (along with wayward hummingbirds, lizards, and the odd sprinkling of garden dirt); the look is early California by way of Morocco; and nary a coaster can be found.
“This house has a lot of soul to it because not everything is perfect,” says Fawaz, cofounder of Starworks Artists, which represents some of the top hair, makeup, and fashion stylists in the country. “Things get scratched and broken and we have parties and there are stains all over, but that’s part of the vibe. We want to live in here.”
Fawaz and Duncan, who have been together for four years, moved into their home in 2012 after a hunt worthy of Goldilocks. Midcentury listings were “too cold-feeling”; Craftsmen-style options were beautiful, but the living areas were typically too far away from the kitchens—a dealbreaker for Sawaz, a devoted entertainer. Something about this place, with its unusual coffee-colored façade, felt just right. Or right enough, at any rate, to build upon: after their purchase, the couple embarked on renovations that included opening up and redesigning the kitchen and transforming a smoker’s den behind the living room into a breezeway that connects the front yard to the back. Now it plays host to a freeform cabinet of organic curiosities, including a wall-mounted tumbleweed picked up in Joshua Tree.
“We saw the house as an opportunity to find ourselves through designing how we want to live,” says Duncan, an Ohio native with a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. (He left his job at a home-accessories company in December to focus on his landscape design business and studio art practice.) For him, the residence has been a creative and professional platform, complete with a detached studio in the back and ample space for installing new works, including a bold, wall-mounted architectural sculpture on display in the kitchen—part of a recent series. “Everybody wants to take a selfie in front of it,” he observes.
Outside, Duncan composed an arid menagerie of saguaro and cereus cacti housed in Turkish oil jars and Mexican planters, and accented with painstakingly sourced rocks and boulders. “There’s something about a well-placed boulder that really changes everything,” says Fawaz. “Before I met Brad, I never would have looked at a rock. Now we have a whole room devoted to crystals.” An uninhabited patch of soil framed by terra-cotta tile is a holding ground for exotic plantings destined for Duncan’s clients. In the backyard, his wire sculptures, anchored with hand-forged clavos, create forms for winding jasmine, and a wall of staghorn ferns provides a backdrop for alfresco dinner parties centered around a table Duncan built and modeled after a farmhouse antique.
For Fawaz, the dwelling functions less as a laboratory, more as an escape. “Work used to be everything to me,” he says. “[Designing the house] has given me a release and allowed me to not be so defined by that.” A prolific cook, Fawaz took an active role in shaping the kitchen, drawing inspiration from a book on Shaker furniture. A Monterey-style table from the 1920s anchors the space. Custom cabinetry by local design-build firm td[s] is flush-mounted for a seamless look, and earthen materials, including the wood-topped island and concrete countertops, add naturalistic warmth.
Fawaz’s fashion background also seeps in throughout. He’s only half-joking when he cites womenswear designer Rick Owens as the influence behind the industrial-tinged downstairs bathroom, which features a bespoke concrete pedestal sink, ’20s-era Batchelder floor tiles, and a rock from Big Sur that the couple built into the shower as a soap dish.
The sunken living room, with its original wood-burning fireplace, is where their days wind down. “We hang more than we relax,” confesses Duncan. “But this is where we cuddle. Past 8 p.m. we’re in here.” The den appeals to Duncan’s curatorial talents, thanks to traditional Spanish niches built into the walls that play host to a rotating selection of organic objets, as well as a permanent fixture—a taxidermied barn owl that was a gift from Fawaz. The deep-set sofa and its oversize ottoman, custom-made at HD Buttercup, is a magnet for lounging.
“I’ve always been interested in beautiful things—obviously, I’m in the beauty industry. I’m constantly looking at magazines, photography, art, what’s interesting to be connected to… If you have that kind of brain, I do think that interiors is the same thought process,” Fawaz reflects. “Yet everything here is what we like and want to live with. It’s not [here] because we think it looks cool.” He turns to Duncan for agreement. “Yes,” Duncan responds. Then he adds, “But it does look cool.”