The Shelby Cass house in Los Angeles had only one previous owner
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When interior designer Shelby Cass began making plans to renovate her new home — a 1963-built ranch in the hills of the San Fernando Valley that had only one previous owner — there was a problem: That owner was her grandmother, who died at age 97. The house was full of family memories and nostalgia.
“My father grew up in this house,” Cass explains. “We were thrilled to be able to keep it in the family, but updating it will be difficult.”
With the opportunity to take it to the spikes, Cas will have to decide which direction to take with the house that has never been touched. “I could update it with an open floor plan and a modern, white farmhouse feel,” she says. “Instead, I stuck to some of the original mid-century motifs, but with updated panels and a cleaner, more modern orientation.”
The traditional farmhouse was designed for a family over 60 years ago, so the floor plan was perfect. “We spent a lot of time figuring out how to expand doors, remove basements, or add sidelights to get more natural light, which was very important to me,” says Kass. “But the design is basically the same.”
Since they stuck to the boxy architecture as well as millwork and materials befitting the era in which it was built, they brought in curvy furniture and more fun features to soften it all up, add more of a ’70s vibe, and make it brighter and lighter. “I have to play with color in a way that my clients don’t always feel comfortable with,” Cass says. “The house called for it.”
The biggest transformation in the house happened in the kitchen, where she opened up the doorways and removed the existing lower panels in the ceiling, “which instantly made the space feel larger and brighter,” Cass says. From there, she found the countertop stone, Calacatta Viola, which dictated the design of the rest of the room. “It had these gorgeous pinks and purples, and we played that off with the pink pantry and burgundy benches.”
For the cabinets, Cass knew she wanted natural wood. “You see white oak cabinets a lot, but they’re expensive right now,” Cass says. “Instead, we ended up with white birch, which has the most amazing grain movement that I ended up loving.”
The one thing that surprised even Cass about her own design? The way she kept finding her way back to the original choices. “I ended up choosing color palettes similar to what was already there,” she says. “The primary pigeon, for example, was always pink, and the secondary pigeon was always green.”
But perhaps no room embodies the spirit of its original counterpart more than the powder room. “This has always been a magical room,” Cass says. Think: a shag rug, silver wallpaper, and a full floor-to-ceiling mirror. “I kept the same vibes with the charming stone, dark zellige tile, and even the rug.”
But Kass’s favorite place in the house isn’t the bold powder room or gorgeous kitchen: it’s the family room. “I know it doesn’t have the wow factor and it’s not a room you’ll let guests talk about, but I love the colors we’ve incorporated, especially the curved blue rug that reflects the view of the pool outside,” she says.
Although the renovation included bringing back all of the electrical and plumbing for the entire house, Cass says the biggest design struggle for her was the family room fireplace. “It was originally covered by canyon rocks, which looked very dark and heavy,” she says. She wanted to keep the fireplace in place to maintain the look of the house, but in a cleaner, brighter way — and in a way that could include an unobtrusive TV. So they used thin brick tiles and custom millwork around the TV. “I was determined to make all the bricks line up perfectly and not make the TV stand out at all,” Cass says. Combine that with the fire codes for the working fireplace, and she quips: “The courtiers wanted to kill me.”
In the early 1960s, no family home was complete without a minibar. “My grandparents were big entertainers and probably threw about 500 parties in this house, and my dad worked the bar since he was 10,” Cass says. When renovated, she replaced the mid-century bar with her own party bar, complete with modern marble and rich walnut “for a bit of drama.”
The party came full circle when Cass and her husband held their first gathering in their newly renovated home, to celebrate New Year’s Eve: “We had a huge disco ball hanging above it, and it looked right.”
As for the original owner? “I think all the time about how much I want to see (my grandmother). She loved everything she did, and I think she would love it very much.