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The condominium that Jonathan's real estate agent took him to see had been on the market for months. The place certainly had potential. At around 1,250 square feet, the size alone was a major selling point for the New York transplant. But it had historic charm too; located inside one of those French chateau-looking buildings built in the 1920s and '30s that dot the blocks of Koreatown, the condo had much-coveted features like a wood-burning fireplace and the original '20s-era mantel, coved ceilings, and wood floors. But many of the features inside the one-bedroom, one-bathroom unit were dated, leftovers from the building's conversion to condos in the mid-2000s. But Jonathan wasn't too intimidated. "I had done a project in New York where it was also a complete gut job, so I can kind of see past what you see the first time and have an idea of what needs to happen," the 39-year-old photographer says.
Before photo courtesy the homeowner.
The positives outweighed the negatives in the end, and in the beginning of 2015, Jonathan purchased his new home for just shy of $500,000. The kitchen and the bathroom were at the top of the to-do list. In the kitchen, new countertops and appliances were put in; the cabinets stayed, but received new paint. The bathroom was another story. "When we took the tiles off in the bathroom, we got [to see] basically how badly it was before. Some of the pipes were held up with duct tape. You open that up and it's like, 'Oh, there's another $3,000,' because you have to do that now." Luckily, this was not Jonathan's first rodeo, and he'd known that eternal truth of renovations: things almost always end up costing more than you thought they would.
Jonathan was lucky—or unlucky, depending on the point of view—in that he didn't have to live in his new home while all the duct tape was coming down and the kitchen counters were being put in. The rental he'd been living in when he bought his new residence was month-to-month, so he was able to keep his old apartment and live there for the three months or so it took to transform his home. "But at the same time, I was paying a mortgage and a rent. It's not something you want to have going on for a while, but I knew there was no way I would live through the renovation." He moved in in April 2015.
The residence is entered from a modest, stylish foyer, which Jonathan painted jet black. In fact, the walls and ceilings are all painted in various shades of gray, which Jonathan wasn't sure was a good idea until it was all done. "I was getting worried that it was turning into a Fifty Shades of Grey place—not in the sense of the movie, but in the sense that it's gray, black, white—but it worked out." The monochrome palate is echoed in the art on the walls—all original architectural and landscape photos he himself took. In the living room, he's mounted large prints of photos he took with his iPhone from a moving train in Switzerland. As a photographer, he has a backlog of cool photos at his disposal that offer an easy and relatively inexpensive way to change up the decor whenever he pleases.
One wall that's not any hue of gray is in the bedroom. Get closer to the dark olive green wall and notice that there's actually a 3D art piece up there: a mounted animal head painted the exact same color. It's not the real thing. "I wanted to do something with antlers. Restoration Hardware used to make a wooden one which was stunning, but then they stopped making them and you couldn't find it." So instead, he found a "cheap plastic one" and had it spray painted with the paint he used for the wall.
From renovating major sections of the space to finding the perfect color of fake animal head to hang over the bed, the process of transforming the Koreatown condo has all been worth it, Jonathan says. "I'm not here to flip homes. This is my home. [It's] the only place I'm living in."