It’s late afternoon, and fashion designer Marcus Austin-Paglialonga is finally sitting down for an interview. Between receiving (and posting on Instagram) a selfie Shakira snapped while wearing his hip Sol Silk bomber jacket and a presentation of his latest M.A.P. line at the West Hollywood Fred Segal—the same store where he used to dress the windows—it’s been a busy day.
He settles down in his apartment’s pink bedroom to talk to a reporter, and he can’t help but marvel that he’s on the inside of the building. (More on that room in a moment.)
“Ten years ago, when I was 21 years old, I was just starting my career working in visual services at Fred Segal. I used to drive by this building every day and wish I could live here,” he says. “I thought that if you could do that, you would have made it.”
The turreted building of his dreams was designed by architect Leland A. Bryant. In the 1920s, Bryant was a prolific architect who built a wealth of apartments and homes in Los Angeles, most in the distinctive, romantic chateau style that’s still associated with the city.
As Variety put it in an article about the architect: “If you were invited to a dinner party at an up-and-coming star’s apartment during Hollywood’s golden age, there’s a good chance you would have experienced the storybook grandeur of architect Leland A. Bryant.”
The story of how Austin-Paglialonga came to live here would make a good script for one of the black-and-white films those actors starred in back in the roaring 20s.
He grew up in Las Vegas, where he developed a design eye early on.
“True story: When I was five years old, my mother took me to visit a friend who had a child my age, and girl named Stephanie. She invited me up to her room to play, and the bedroom was pink. I ran back downstairs to tell my mother about it, and begged her to paint my room the same color. Mom said she knew at that moment I was gay,” he says.
Austin-Paglialonga notes that, shortly after, his mother painted his room orange while he was at school, and he was deeply disappointed. When asked if his mother had an issue with the walls of his room having a traditionally feminine color, he says: “Oh god, no. My mother let me play with a Princess Barbie. I think she just didn’t like the idea of pink for a bedroom.”
He moved to Los Angeles and landed the Fred Segal job, and eventually started designing clothes under other labels (he’s worked for everyone from Free People to Urban Outfitters).
After a two-year stint in New York City, he was ready to return to the West Coast. When he heard about this apartment coming up for rent, he relentlessly lobbied the manager for it, even though he had only four fuzzy digital photos as evidence of what the place actually looked like.
“I knew all I needed to know. I knew the building, and I knew I wanted to live there,” he says. “That said, it was overwhelming and wonderful to walk in the door that first time. It turned out to be far more than I hoped for.”
Specifically, it’s a 1,300-square-foot unit with charming features still intact. High ceilings are decorated by carved beams and the faces of whimsical horned men; in the classic bathrooms, colorful 1920s-era tiles are accented by bands of black tiles; the stair rail is crafted from curvy wrought iron; and many doorways have a graceful Gothic arch.
“I loved it immediately, and I still love it,” Austin-Paglialonga. “Almost everything is original, from the door handles to the door hinges.”
One of the first orders of business: painting the bedroom pink. “I wanted to do it while I was still young enough to pull it off,” Austin-Paglialonga says. “I took a selfie in the bedroom and sent it to Mom. She wrote back, ‘oh honey, you finally got your pink bedroom.’”
Not everything was rosy in his new home: Some light fixtures were missing, some were just unattractive. Once again, his mother had strong design opinions on the subject—and in this case, Austin-Paglialonga agreed.
“From the time I was young, my mother always told me you could improve a rental by changing out the light fixtures,” he says. “Previous residents had put in track lighting, and I thought: ‘hell no.’ I spent a lot of money on the new light fixtures. They are like pieces of art, and they change everything.”
Like many buildings constructed in that era, lighting is something of a challenge. But for Austin-Paglialonga, it’s no problem. “Actually, I like moody lighting, so I don’t mind light from sconces and lamps.”
In most cases, he went in a direction that’s the opposite from the architectural style. “For the living room, I picked modern sconces by Serge Mouille. I love the juxtaposition,” he says.
Austin-Paglialonga made a similar decision in the dining room, where he installed a Lindsey Adelman-like fixture. He also put up a wall covering with an oversize tapestry print on one wall and painted the remaining vertical surfaces a brilliant blue.
“I wanted a dining room that balanced masculinity, femininity, and vintage design,” he says. “If you visit the Chateau Marmont Hotel, you will see there’s a side bar to the right of the lobby. It’s small, just about eight seats, and is mysterious. It pulls you into the room and gives you the vibe of the old hotel. I wanted my dining room to have the same feeling—sort of a hypnotizing atmosphere.”
That high-ceilinged living room has a similarly eclectic style. An antique chair and a modern Eames rocker sit opposite a classic leather sofa. Modern photography, most of it sourced from LGBT artists he discovered on Instagram, decorates the walls. In place of track lighting, he’s hung the branches from a fallen willow tree he found while walking his dog, Bowie.
“I dipped them in gold paint before I hung them,” Austin-Paglialonga says. “The ceilings are so tall, I had to use an 18-foot ladder. It was so high, it swayed and felt like rubber under my feet. I have never been so scared—or sworn and screamed so much—as I did installing those branches.”
Many old Hollywood buildings come with stories, and this one is no different. Greta Garbo is said to have lived in the unit with the turret. Austin-Paglialonga says his apartment has been home to both George Hurrell (the famous photographer of the likes of Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and more) and Winona Ryder.
But it’s the style, not the former residents, that inspire him. “This place has an old Hollywood glamour and an energy that has translated into my work,” Austin-Paglialonga says. “After living here, I started using more luxe materials.”
And, even though he’s lived there two years now, the thrill shows no signs of wearing off. “To this day, when I’m driving home from work, the boy in me still gets excited when I spot the building,” he says. “But now, I don’t drive past—I pull into the garage.”