Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Before Los Angeles was a tangle of vehicle-choked freeways, it supported one of the largest electric railway systems in the world.

Streetcars scuttled between the city center and freshly built neighborhoods, like the dreamily named Ivanhoe, a development several miles northwest of downtown. In the early 20th century, workers — many of them employees of local film studios — would emerge from their little bungalows and take the flights of hillside steps leading down to the trolleys.

Today, Ivanhoe is known as Silver Lake, and many of the bungalows have disappeared. But one that survived managed to find its way into the dedicated hands of the actor Charlie Carver.

In 2016, Mr. Carver saw a listing for a one-bedroom house built in 1903, among the oldest in the neighborhood. Set on an oasis-like 10th of an acre, the 755-square-foot house (not including the loft converted from an attic) was catnip to real-estate developers eager to rip it down and replace it with something bigger.

“I was shocked I was able to make an offer that the seller would entertain,” said Mr. Carver, 35, whom Wisteria Lane habitués may remember as Porter Scavo, one of Felicity Huffman’s twin sons on “Desperate Housewives.” (His identical twin, Max Carver, played his on-screen sibling, Preston.) More recently, he starred as Cowboy in the revived stage and film versions of “The Boys in the Band” and had a leading role in “American Horror Story: NYC,” which dramatized the serial killings of gay men in 1980s New York.

Luckily for Mr. Carver, the seller was an architect who respected the bungalow’s history and was proud of the improvements he had made. Rejecting 23 offers from developers, he sold the house to the actor for $783,000 (less than he would have gotten from the other suitors, but more than Mr. Carver had proposed, after an inspection turned up foundation problems).

When it came time to decorate, Mr. Carver found his muse in Garance Rousseau, an interior designer he met through Max. In the first autumn of the pandemic, the three had shared a cottage on a sheep farm near Bath, England, with leisure to savor the eccentricities of the local Cotswolds antiques shops.

Back home, Ms. Rousseau, 27, helped Mr. Carver graft Cotswolds-cottage charm onto the bungalow. Embarking on her first project as a solo designer, she saw her job as “asking the house what it wants to be.”

She began by smoothing some of the rough spots: the window and door moldings of different widths (now made uniform); the living room’s clumsy layout, which cut a diagonal path from the front door to the kitchen (now made less awkward through the strategic placement of furniture); the paint colors that didn’t feel quite California (now made brighter).

She also helped Mr. Carver integrate furnishings and art pieces inherited from his father, Robert Martensen, a physician and biomedical historian, who died in 2013 at 66. (Mr. Carver, who was born Charles Carver Martensen, has written about dropping his surname after learning at the age of 11 that his father was gay. He himself came out as gay in 2016.)

Among the trove is a fertility statue from Papua New Guinea in the living room, an antique Japanese tansu chest that serves as a bedside table and a vintage writing desk used for dining, although it is “a little narrow and a little short,” Mr. Carver said.

At one point, the actor indulged his paternal Danish roots with a trip to Copenhagen, where he bought Rope sofas made by the furniture company Normann Copenhagen that Ms. Rousseau insisted on reupholstering in a soft, rust-colored fabric from Belgium. She believed the textile would stand up to Mr. Carver’s poodle mix, Homer. (She was right.)

She also found a chair prototype by a Danish cabinetmaker, which was restored and recovered in a Pierre Frey bouclé. “Everything in the house feels like it has a little bit of age to it,” Mr. Carver said.

Including the kitchen appliances. To remove the old stove that came with the house would have meant taking out a window or wall, Mr. Carver said. And his large magnet collection, to which he most recently added Paris Hilton’s new album, adheres firmly to the old refrigerator’s metal door.

Ms. Rousseau updated almost everything else, applying her fine eye for color. The kitchen’s open shelves were fitted with sliding doors and stained a light honey. The cream-colored walls were coated in Farrow & Ball’s Dayroom Yellow, the color of sunbeams.

In the main-floor bedroom, the walls are now Farrow & Ball Oval Room Blue. Under the roof eaves, the loft space was replastered and painted warm white.

All in all, the renovation cost about $75,000, including new energy-efficient lighting throughout the home.

“I’m a lighting nut,” Mr. Carver said about his bathroom sconces, curvy sheets of glass and perforated metal. He is also a conservation nut who is happy not to be beholden to the electrical grid, thanks to the solar panels on his roof.

Having discovered that his property is zoned for two houses, Mr. Carver dreams about adding another building. For now, he said, the diminutive dwelling is just right for a lone inhabitant who is in Los Angeles only 65 percent of the year.

“I can lock it up and give the keys to a friend,” he said. “It’s so manageable.”


Living Small is a biweekly column exploring what it takes to lead a simpler, more sustainable or more compact life.

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