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A photo of the homes interior that shows the living room, kitchen, and sliding glass doors to the yard.

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Trading Valleys: A family leaves Sherman Oaks for Monrovia, finding nature and community

Their midcentury home is filled with enviable furniture—thanks to a lucky eBay score

Our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today we venture into the Monrovia home of Karen and Paul Gelinas. About 11 years ago, they were renters in the northern part of the city. They both had grown up in the San Fernando Valley and bought a Craftsman-style house in Sherman Oaks, but headed to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains to raise their kids closer to unfettered nature.


Their Monrovia rental was in a small canyon, and it didn’t take long for Karen to realize that the neighborhood was exactly what she was looking for—the proximity to the mountains, the trees, the quiet.

“I was completely enamored,” she said.

Miles and Gracie sit on the houses massive rear deck with their English bulldog Gwen Stefani.
A Bird chair by Harry Bertoia for Knoll overlooks the hills of Monrovia.

Paul was less convinced. Monrovia, in the San Gabriel Valley, seemed too far from the city. But while walking through the neighborhood, he spotted a great house overlooking the canyon—a single-story midcentury with a flat roof and what he presumed were great views. A set of windows at the front of the house allow passersby to see through the kitchen and out the rear sliding glass doors.

“I said I would stay in Monrovia if I could move into this house,” Paul said.

Shortly after, Paul learned the house was for sale. They bought it in 2005, winning expansive and serene views.

The kitchen windows offer a view straight through the house to the backyard.

The house, built in 1947, undoubtedly had good bones, but there was work to be done: The previous owners had made some unflattering additions to the house, including putting river rock around the living room fireplace and inserting awkward cabinets. The tile floors were dated.

The renovation process was quick, because they didn’t have to put anything in so much as they had to take things out.

Something they did bring into the house? A lot of lovely midcentury furniture. Much of the period furniture in the house is not the result of years of careful collecting, but of one careful, lucky impulse buy that happened not long after they moved in.

A little nook set up near one of the home’s two fireplaces.
A Hans Wegner Papa chair was included in Paul’s eBay haul.

The family was looking for a bulldog, so Paul—a lighting designer with a love of furniture—was looking at canine candidates on eBay. “I saw this photo of one [bulldog] and in the back were two Barcelona chairs,” he said.

He inquired about the chairs and discovered the woman had a whole house of midcentury furniture that she was looking to offload. Her house was in Michigan, so there wasn’t a chance to inspect the pieces before buying them, but Paul was undeterred. “I said, ‘I’ll buy everything.’ I was so excited because one table was worth $2,800.”

Two Sonneman lamps flank the bed in the master bedroom.

And so sight unseen, he bought it all. He estimates he got about 50 pieces of furniture. He kept what he liked, sold the rest, and said he made back his money and then some.

“We got Knoll stuff, we got Herman Miller stuff, we got Hans Wagner, I got the [Arne Jacobsen] Egg chair,” he says, rattling off a long and enviable list of serious finds.

(Top left) A photo by Santa Monica-based photographer Judith Gigliotti hangs over the fireplace. A black Eames for Herman Miller chair sits in the corner. (Top right) The hefty dining table is from Crate & Barrel. (Bottom) Karen, a former art history major, picked the color for the kitchen, which looks chartreuse from some angles and lemony yellow from others. The color is by Benjamin Moore.

For a house full of serious collectibles, it’s not stuffy, though the Gelinas’ teenagers Miles and Gracie do joke that, as far as their friends are concerned, the Gelinas home is the “hang out but don’t touch anything” house. (“Their friends always want to spin in the Egg chair,” Paul says.)

A Southeast Asian wooden bodhisattva was given to Karen by her late aunt—an appropriate gift considering Karen is a ThD student in applied Buddhist studies.
The piano is topped by Tibetan bells; both were from Karen’s aunt.

Miles and Gracie love the house—Miles is already thinking about trying to buy it from his parents in the future—mostly because of where it is.

“The neighborhood has a very good community. I met people here when I was six that I’m still friends with now,” Miles sad.

Gracie said she had been thinking about how they might have a more fast-paced life without such a strong sense of community if her family had stayed in Sherman Oaks. At her school in Pasadena, everyone assumes that all the students from Monrovia know each other—and they do. “We’d be the same family, but [our lives would be] very different if we lived in the Valley,” she said.

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