A three-level house with a steep backyard isn’t an obvious choice for a family with three young children. But Haily Zaki and her husband, Brian Tuey, turned the unlikely site into an imaginative home brimming with creativity and color. Located in the Mount Washington neighborhood of northeast Los Angeles, the house was a bank foreclosure with “absolutely no curb appeal” (in Zaki’s words) when the couple purchased it in 2008. Luckily, Zaki—who runs the design-focused firm Secret Agent PR and cofounded the Los Angeles Design Festival—had the resources to get things done.
“We’d stalked Mount Washington for quite some time before we bought,” says Zaki. She and Tuey were living in a cramped one-bedroom rental in Silver Lake when they fell in love with the 2,000-square-foot home’s spaciousness and generous canyon views. “The finishes were awful, though. Red-pink granite, faux-mahogany floors, cheap doors, bad windows, and concrete everywhere outside.” After living in the existing structure for three years, the couple was more than ready to embark on a remodel. Their design partners: Amber and Shawn Keltner of KeltnerCo, who also happened to be their good friends. “Amber and Shawn had spent a lot of time in the house with us, and they had a modern approach. We liked how their design was super-personalized to our family,” says Zaki.
From the start, the couple took an unconventional approach. “I love to cook, so I wanted the kitchen to be the heart of everything. But I also have a deep-seated fear of becoming my mother and needed to keep the kitchen clear of clutter,” explains Zaki in her typically humorous manner. The resulting space—the first room visible upon entering the home—is a model of minimalism and stealth juxtaposed with exuberant pattern and color. An “invisible pantry” with plenty of storage joins a hidden refrigerator and dishwasher. An expansive island with a KitchenAid cooktop and a cantilevered edge is a natural spot for feeding the kids (five-year-old Cael, two-year-old Rowan, and two-month-old Hana). Across one wall runs a Bisazza tile pattern by Marcel Wanders, visually linking the kitchen to the dining area, where a plinth table in a white auto-body finish is surrounded by chairs covered in Marimekko fabric.
The adjacent living area, a relatively compact space where the kitchen used to be, was designed around Zaki’s beloved Missoni rug. (Architect Shawn Keltner created a custom bar in one corner inspired by the iconic zigzag pattern.) Epoxy floors—“just a quick wipe with water,” says Zaki about the upkeep—are unmistakably kid-friendly. And a flat-screen TV embedded in a floating wall by the stairwell allows for the display of meaningful artworks on an adjacent surface. As a kind of inside joke and a nod to Tuey’s work in the video-game industry, the white banister’s pattern was based on an abstracted sound wave of the family dog, Brutus, barking in character on one of Tuey’s most popular franchises.
Elsewhere in the home, private spaces are punctuated by bold hues and unexpected details. The mezzanine-level home office features an orange wall and custom bookshelves of layered plywood. The master bedroom, clad in serene gray, showcases a set of heartbeat paintings by contemporary Japanese artist SASAKI—Zaki’s heartbeat on the right, Tuey’s on the left. The lowest level of the house was claimed by Tuey as his man cave, complete with a home recording studio and a TV room with a bright orange sectional. “If it weren’t for the fancy coffeemaker in the kitchen, he would probably never come upstairs,” comments Zaki dryly.
Perhaps the most dramatically revamped space is the outdoor living area that Zaki calls the Grotto, which takes full advantage of the Southern California climate. “Our actual backyard is very steep and not particularly safe for little kids,” explains Zaki. “So we converted the unused space near the driveway into a ‘garden’ with an outdoor theater for Brian and a yoga space for me.” One side is covered in decking, with built-in benches and a stacked-stone water feature; the other side is lined with artificial turf and features brightly patterned beanbags and a pull-down movie screen. Modern and ingenious, with an overarching element of fun: it’s the perfect gathering spot for a family that puts design to work in creative ways.