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A living room with two couches. One couch is blue, the other couch is grey. On one of the walls are bookshelves full of books, and art. The bookcase surrounds a door with a painted red doorframe.

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A 1950s house’s ‘quirky, mad-hatter’ revamp

Leela Cyd and David Kilpatrick left Portland, Oregon, for Santa Barbara, California—and brought their sense of fun with them

After seven years in Portland, Oregon, Leela Cyd and David Kilpatrick were craving some sunlight. Santa Barbara, California—Cyd’s hometown and where the couple spent their college years—beckoned, in particular the neighborhood where her parents, Richard and Cissy Ross, lived.

A block from the beach and a park, the location was enticing not only for its proximity to sun, surf, and family, but because of something more immaterial: They were expecting their first child, and Cyd hoped he would grow up with the same connection to the outdoors as she’d had.

“We spent our 20s in Portland, which was really fun,” Cyd says. “But I noticed our friends who were a bit older than us were buying houses and having kids. We didn’t want to do that there.”

The exterior of a house painted white and green. In the foreground are the branches of a palm tree and flowering shrubbery.
The couple gave the house’s exterior a makeover with brighter paint and trim in Benjamin Moore Stokes Forest Green.
A mother and father sit on a couch smiling at the camera. On the father’s lap is a child who is looking at the camera.
Cyd, Kilpatrick, and Izador hanging out in the living room.

Returning south in 2016, Cyd, a lifestyle and interiors photographer and author, and Kilpatrick, lead director at David Lee Studios, found a circa-1950s tract home that, while in need of a substantial renovation, was just a few blocks from her parents.

“I’m really close with them, and thought if I’m going to have a kid, I should be near them,” she says. Of the house itself, Cyd says, “it was a total dump and ... that’s why we could live here,” underscoring the price of housing today compared to 1979, when her parents bought their home for $15,000.

The nondescript three-bedroom, one-bathroom house had a large garage and needed a major overhaul, which the couple did room-by-room over a three-year period.

“We started with the kitchen, which was the easiest remodel in the sense that everything was crumbling and nothing worked. It all had to go,” Cyd says. “It had been eaten by termites and the guy who had lived here before had never done anything to it. It was disintegrating.”

Photographing so many kitchens in her career meant Cyd had ideas of what she wanted in her own home. Top of mind was a vintage stove, and when she found a 1951 six-burner Wedgewood at a repair shop, she scooped it up and had it restored in Ventura by Bernie Flanagan.

Another feature the couple wanted to incorporate was a sink overlooking the garden through large windows, which Cyd says is worth it even though they have to walk across the kitchen to put dishes away. Cheerful pink cabinets wink at the home’s heritage without making it a time capsule, and the ceiling was raised to follow the line of the original beams.

 A kitchen with a triple paned window. The kitchen cabinets are painted pink. There is artwork above the windows and a hanging fruit basket. The floor is tiled with black and white diamond patterned tiles.
Handmade plates by Rebekah Miles, a paper fish by Kilpatrick, and Kilpatrick’s childhood cutlery hang above the sink. The window trim is painted in Vista Paint Turkish Teal.
Various pieces of artwork on a painted white wall. There is a large houseplant sitting on the floor against the wall.
Cyd purchased the fabric boobs at a costume shop. The toast is from a fake-food store in Tokyo’s Kappabashi area. The drawing is a portrait of the couple’s son by Kilpatrick.
A small corner of the living room with green cushions, patterned pillows, a child’s doll, and a patterned tapestry hanging on the wall.
A nook in the living room, with custom built-in cushions and a textile from Istanbul hanging on the wall.
A dining room with a large table and a variety of chairs. The floor is exposed wood. There is a light fixture and a hanging houseplant. A large window faces the table and overlooks the outside.
In the dining room, chairs from Ikea, estate sales, and photo shoots sit around a table the couple found at an estate sale. The interiors are painted in Benjamin Moore Super White throughout.

“I was grateful, in a way, that everything had to go, rather than hemming and hawing over bits and pieces, which I have seen in other people’s remodels,” she says. “Either it takes you longer or you don’t actually ever do it because it’s kind of functional.”

The couple’s son, Izador, was born in 2017, and they kicked off renovations on the other side of the house in his first year, during which they added a second bathroom. “He grew up with the sounds of jackhammers outside his window, but he got through it,” Cyd jokes.

In the foreground are various types of flowering shrubbery and trees. In the background is the exterior of a house.
The couple planted the gardens that surround the home.

For Cyd and Kilpatrick, the best and most underused area in the house was the garage. With no real need to protect cars through a long winter, a garage is less useful in Southern California, and the couple wanted to integrate it into the rest of the house as their main living and entertaining space. They added pickled white pine ceilings to bring warmth to the home’s white walls, and decided they’d need to add built-in shelving to house their sprawling collection of curios.

“We flew by the seat of our pants as we went, and continue to do that,” says Cyd. “I think that is really influenced by my husband’s full-on DIY spirit.”

The couple also gave the exterior a makeover with brighter paint and seafoam trim, and planted the gardens that surround the structure.

When it comes to their decor, Cyd says that she and Kilpatrick have a similar aesthetic, which she describes as “quirky and mad-hatter.” Choosing a simple wall color and light flooring allows them to showcase the artwork and objects they have collected over time, either by traveling, trading with fellow artists, or thrifting at estate sales.

A bedroom with a bed that has patterned bedding and pillows. There is a nightstand to the side of the bed with a lamp. Above the nightstand hangs a mirror and a variety of artwork.
The couple’s bed is from West Elm, the comforter is from Anthropologie, and the nightstand is from Land of Nod. The lamp, mirror, and moulding were all thrifted or found at estate sales.
A wooden dresser with painted blue handles sits against a wall with a multitude of colorful painted shapes.
The dresser in Izador’s room is from Land of Nod. The rug is from Ikea. Kilpatrick painted the wall mural.

“My husband is a crazy shopper,” says Cyd. “He is determined to seek out little treasures. If we like it, we fit it in. We don’t think the other way around.” This mentality speaks to what attracts Cyd the most when photographing other homes. “The homes that have layering of time periods and sources are the most interesting. I love to be in houses like that.”

After 15 years of moving in and out of rentals, Cyd is grateful to put roots down. As roving creatives, traveling to where the jobs are in Los Angeles or beyond, it’s been the home base they sought—especially with a second child on the way.

“Having little kids, you end up spending a lot of time in your house,” says Cyd. “I am grateful to have done all this heavy lifting at the time we did it, because now we can enjoy it.”

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