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Walk This Way, S'il Vous Plait

A Parisian couple transforms a vintage Hollywood home into a French country charmer.


Before Chantal Dussouchaud and Harry Dolman bought their vintage Hollywood home last year, it had been described by real estate agents as either Cape Cod or Regent style.

But by the time the couple were done remodeling the 1937 two-story home earlier this year, it was decidedly country French--gravel paths, lavender, olive trees, rosemary, wooden floors, French doors, country antiques and rich imported fabrics made into draperies by Dussouchaud, an interior designer.

And why not? The couple met, married, lived and worked in Paris. She was raised in the south of France, he in Holland. And Dussouchaud, who had worked for L'Oreal as a "trend tracker," is even more intimate with French style than the average Frenchwoman.

The couple left France last year when Harry, 38, who works in merchandise licensing for Disney, was promoted to a global position at the company's Burbank headquarters. They were thrilled to move to California.

"L.A. is amazing," Dussouchaud says. "You have the best modern architecture."

The couple wanted to find a house convenient to Dolman's office and close enough to the city for Dussouchaud, 35, to ride to by bicycle.

And they wanted a house with character.

"Coming from Europe, we wanted something old," Dussouchaud explains. Los Feliz was considered until they found a house with two bedrooms, a library and 31/2 baths in a quiet, wooded neighborhood at the base of the Hollywood Hills.

At first glance, the house was not appealing, which explains why it had been on the market for seven months. The problems were both outside and inside.

"There was concrete everywhere," Harry says, recalling that the front of the lot consisted of a wide concrete driveway stretching from the street, past the front door and into the garage.

"Excuse me, but that's very American," Dussouchaud says, noting that in Europe the garage is set apart from the house.

And inside, the house was dark, with its windows covered with screens and the draperies closed against any sunlight that managed to penetrate the overgrown trees and shrubs. "It's too dark for me," Dussouchaud had said.

Still, the house had a certain charm, with its thick moldings, wooden floors and two fireplaces.

To see what could be done to solve the home's problems, the couple took photographs of the house inside and out. Back at their corporate housing in Burbank, the couple drew the changes they would make right on the photos. A larger window for the kitchen, a bay window in the living room, lawn and gravel paths instead of the driveway. Early in 2000, they bought the house for $717,000.

Initially, the couple planned to spend $100,000 on a major remodel, and then $50,000 more as time went by. Together, they made a list of the changes they wanted to make, and then rated each from 1 to 5, with 5 being of highest priority. Eventually, they spent $200,000 and got everything done at once.

"In the end, they were all 5s," Dussouchaud says.

Of utmost importance was a major kitchen remodel, which ate up $45,000 of the budget.

The old kitchen was small and oppressive and still had its original cabinets, by then painted many times over. On the plus side, it had wide-plank fir floors, which fit in well with the couple's vision of a country kitchen.

To create the spacious kitchen the couple needed--they entertain friends at least twice a week, with Dolman acting as chief chef--they decided to tear down the separating wall of an adjacent laundry room and incorporate that space into the kitchen. Then they decided to eliminate a wall between the kitchen and a breakfast room, also incorporating that into the kitchen. A small window in the breakfast area would be replaced with double French doors.

To plan the kitchen layout, the couple made yet another list. This one specified which items in the kitchen should be visible (teapots, cookbooks, spices, serving dishes, some wine, etc.), which should be low (cleaning stuff, garbage bin, etc.), which should be high, which in drawers and which in baskets.

Plus, they identified task areas: cooking, cleaning, preparation, breakfast, coffee/storage and then placed the various items near those areas.

For the cabinets, they chose wood with raised panels in a style the manufacturer called French Country. Originally, the plan was to paint the cabinets white on site, but after they were delivered the couple chose to stay with the natural wood. This blended well with the butcher-block countertops, similar to the counters in the couple's Paris apartment.

For appliances, the six-burner Viking range was most important, complemented by a Ventahood and, nearby, a stainless-steel Amana refrigerator.

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