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ITALIAN LESSONS : Architectural Designer Russ Leland Puts His European Vacations to Work in Laurel Canyon

July 20, 1986|VIRGINIA GRAY | Virginia Gray is an associate editor of Los Angeles Times Magazine.

This 1930s-vintage house, built on five levels on a hillside in Laurel Canyon, originally had a dark-stained exterior that bore little relationship to its pseudo-Spanish interior. After working on the house for 18 months, its owner--architectural designer Russ Leland--now describes it as a white "farmhouse," with an interior influenced by several summers he spent in Italy. There he learned that "homes aren't always restored in the literal sense; in Italy, new functionality is often combined with the charm of the old."

Leland has also come to realize that remodeling a house without disturbing any of the exterior walls--as was the case here--can be a difficult, but not impossible, task. "I love to fix up old houses," he says. "It's not easy and it requires a great deal of time, but I enjoy being challenged."

Leland--who worked with contractor Ed Walder--did a great deal of the labor himself, tearing out plaster, removing walls, raising ceilings, installing dry wall, literally resculpting the interior of the house. Where necessary, the original structure was reinforced with steel beams. After 18 months of work, the interior of the house is what Leland calls "a series of cutouts and build-ups."

Furnishings have been kept to a minimum. "I'm not big on furniture," Leland says. "I bring out a few chairs when needed, but I don't want to clutter my home. A sofa and a bed are the only large lounging furniture I own. I think of my home--specifically my furniture--as sculpture that I can eliminate or move around as I wish."

The entrance to the house is on the third level. One floor below is a large kitchen Leland created by razing a wall that separated a very narrow kitchen from a small dining room. The ceiling was removed to expose the rafters and flagstone flooring was installed, providing a simple backdrop for Leland's black granite cooking / dining island, gray granite counter and contemporary appliances and fixtures.

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