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Photography by Jean Randazzo

Lab Fab

by By Alexandria Abramian-Mott | Modern Luxury Interiors California magazine | April 7, 2011

When designer Jamie Bush purchased a West Hollywood bungalow in 2007 with the goal of creating calling-card design offices, he saw each flaw, big and small, as an opportunity to execute an architecturally appropriate makeover that would pack more than a few surprises. And in the case of this long-neglected 1930s property, lots of opportunities awaited Bush, starting with aluminum windows, fake vinyl doors and mismatched flooring. On the upside, says Bush, the property had established trees and “the perfect location, right off Melrose with the whole design district right there. It’s lovely to work here instead of a nondescript commercial building or an office tower.”

But more than just turning a down-on-its-heels property into a highly textured jewel box, Bush sees the 1,300-square-foot main house, with stand-alone guest quarters and sample library, as a lab where he can explore new and evolving design ideas. More than an office, Bush likens the space to “a little showplace that exhibits some of our sensibilities and talents.”

Like a 3-D curriculum vitae, the property saves Bush from having to explain his approach to prospective clients, and allows them to experience it, starting with the antique brickwork that leads from the driveway to the front door. Bush, who went to college in New Orleans, says he wanted to evoke the “great residential brick courtyards that are covered in moss, with great charm and texture. Here I’m exploring that notion in a smaller space.”

Inside, an entryway is turned out in a mix of oversized paisley wallpaper, and a rich, dark color palette with hints of finishes that offer understated shimmer and shine. It’s a first impression that sets the tone for his over-reaching design concept for the space, says Bush: “I wanted to get this masculine, slightly darker, boutique-y vibe here—with a lot of texture and pattern, but a little more handsome, darker, with a lot of black and a lot of natural materials.”

With four full-time employees and a part-time bookkeeper, the designer had to strike a balance in terms of creating a space that would simultaneously function as an office while evoking the comfort and beauty of a well-appointed home. So while he converted various bedrooms into offices, turned the breakfast nook into his bookkeeping area and reimagined the living room as a glamorous conference room, he created an environment where the eye is drawn to layered color, unusual fixtures and bold art, not the hard-working staplers, photocopiers and paint decks that are scattered throughout. 

The space also offers a glimpse into Bush’s design process, one that places architectural considerations at the top of the list. “The way I approached this is the same as I do with all of my projects,” says Bush, who is currently juggling various residential projects in L.A., a beach house on Fire Island, and a Steven Ehrlich-designed modern villa in Laguna. “I try to analyze the architecture first and create an aesthetic that is appropriate for the architecture rather than imposing something on it that might not fit. It’s not a historical thing; it’s more interpreting, problem-solving.”

That kind of problem solving here included a series of small rooms that needed to come together to “tell a bigger story,” says Bush. To help maintain consistency, he kept the flooring uniform throughout—wide-plank oak with an ebonized cerused finish. “Using the same flooring in the entire house makes it feel bigger; it’s a modern device, but it can still work with this era house.”

To create a connection between the bathrooms and kitchen, Bush opted for penny tile, but in different color ways in each room. “Those room share a dialogue with each other and are done with the same hand, but with a variation on a theme,” he says. “I typically take this kind of approach with smaller homes to help tell a story rather than create something that’s chaotic.”

Bush was particularly strict when it came to creating what he calls a color story. “The base here is black and white, and then in addition to that, there’s gray, tobacco brown and rust. If you set up the color palette, you can mix styles and eras easier,” Bush says of pairings like the entryway’s 1970s Pierre Cardin console table with a Danny Ho Fong wicker chair from the ’60s and a 17th-century Italian religious painting. In the conference room, playing within the palette gives Bush the flexibility to layer Asian, African, Italian and American pieces in one room that nevertheless looks cohesive.

Overall, Bush says it took him seven months to renovate and decorate what’s now a charming Spanish bungalow located right next to Michael Smith’s Jasper showroom. For Bush, it means that heading to the office is like spending his time in something that looks more like a showcase house. Only this one isn’t just for looking. “We use the entire space,” says Bush. “On Fridays after work, all of us here in the office will often head out to the back courtyard area, hang out and have cocktails.”