The year was 1998 and the city was Los Angeles. Houses were listed by way of newspaper, each one accompanied by one small picture and a short description. Jeremy Berg had been scouring these listings for close to a year, hunting for a house.
He did ultimately find the right house for him: a two-bedroom, two-bathroom structure built in 1959 and nestled in the hills of Silver Lake, complete with views of the Griffith Observatory.
Not much updating had been done since the home was built, but its midcentury charm—complete with a statement floating staircase and wall-to-wall fireplace—was enough to draw Berg in. Even while he was in escrow he knew where he’d put specific pieces of furniture, like a blue Saarinen Womb Chair and Laurel Light Company lamp for one of the living room corners.
So, how did a hillside house originally described as a “swinging ’60s bachelor pad” transform into a family home for five, twice the size of its original footprint? With the help of five different architects and as many renovations over the years, and a heap of Heath Ceramics tiles.
After a six-year stint in New York, during which Berg and his wife, Jennifer, rented out the house, they returned to LA with the intention to make the midcentury structure into their dream family home.
“When we moved back, we decided to start a family,” Berg explains. “That’s when we started expanding on the house.”
The kitchen is original to the house—think Formica countertops, electric burners, a stove that barely worked—and in 2007 was the first room in the house to be revamped. It was refinished in a largely white color palette. The Bergs worked with Victor Jones of Fievre+Jones to bring the house into the 21st century.
After this first renovation, the couple knew they wanted to stay in the house, and decided to expand its floorplan to accommodate their growing family. They turned to Jones again to redo the bathrooms and build a 500-square-foot addition that filled in an area underneath a portion of the house that cantilevered over a rear patio. This added a family room, a third bathroom, and a third bedroom.
Jones was familiar with the nuances of the home that the Bergs wanted to retain—like its warm wood tones and tall fixed windows—and worked to ensure that the house held onto those midcentury modern charms. Berg hoped that any updates they made to the house would seem as though they’d been there from the beginning.
“When people walk in and they see the open floorplan, it feels natural,” he says.
The Bergs felt even more connected to the home after the second renovation, so they dove in for a third: adding a Johnston Vidal-designed pool and tiered garden to the side of the house.
At this point, the couple had three young daughters, and the dynamics of the upstairs bedroom they shared were getting complicated. The room itself hadn’t been touched since the house was built, and it was still sporting a dated sliding-door closet that made access difficult if more than one person tried to use it at a time. So the couple brought in architect Jeff Guga to reinvent the space, and Guga designed three closets of equal size, along with three bunkbeds with cubbies and pinnable backboards.
“He did a great job of utilizing the space effectively while still giving them really functional closets and great beds—a little of spot of their own,” says Berg.
Over the years, each architect the Bergs worked with played off of what they had seen done in the previous renovations, says Berg. He notes the repetition of Heath Ceramic tiles in the bathroom and pool (and, ultimately, in the new kitchen), and echoes of the floating staircase in the Guga-designed bunkbeds, where one appears to hang unsupported above another, like magic (the bed is bolted to the wall).
In 2017, 10 years after they began their renovation saga with their Jones-designed kitchen, the couple decided to revisit their kitchen, so that it could more easily fit the family (now five).
Enter Emily Farnham, who helped enlarge the kitchen and bring the house’s entryway up to date. Farnham combined the existing kitchen and a playroom to create a much larger kitchen and breakfast nook. This new arrangement meant the kitchen was in better conversation with the other spaces in the home, says Farnham.
Now, there was a view of the pool out back, its color reflected in the kitchen’s new Heath Ceramics tiles, and clearer sightlines are afforded to the brick-clad living room hearth on the opposite side of the house.
Farnham varied the colors in the kitchen’s new tile wall to create visual dynamism, she says, and this became the driver of the whole design. To let the new tiles in the kitchen shine, Farnham kept the color palette in the rest of the space a bit quieter. She also specified a highly durable laminate for the cabinetry, not uncommon in midcentury homes, and accented it with walnut to better complement the other tones of wood in the house.
Farnham explains that she really likes projects that have “physical implications for people and improve their way of life.” The kitchen is designed in just this way: not just to be beautiful, but to be truly functional. The Bergs are avid home cooks, so Farnham studied where they like to chop things, mapped out their storage needs, and installed a sink that hides clutter, among other measures, to make it a comfortable, relaxing space to be.
For Farnham, the project was exciting because the home—which she considers one of the best examples of midcentury modern design in Silver Lake—held onto its original design aesthetic over the years, with each subsequent designer approaching renovations sensitively and celebrating rather than erasing its history. “As a designer you’re always looking for a point of inspiration or something to push off of, and when there’s a historic context there, all you have to do is look around for the answers,” she says.
“What could have been a hodgepodge of different styles really turned into something that was a combined effort between people who’ve never even spoken to each other,” says Berg. “But [they] realized what was done previously and [were] able to tie into that seamlessly.”
Will there be a sixth renovation? Berg says yes, but just for a few closets. (The only thing left to update, after all, are the ones in the master bedroom.) As it stands, the Bergs couldn’t be more thrilled with the home’s current state—and that’s because there’s still a bit of that swinging ’60s vibe.
“I think the biggest achievement for the whole house,” says Berg, “is that we were able to maintain the integrity of the 1959 architecture [while expanding] it to support a family of five.”