Visiting the West Hollywood condominium of Jack Koll and Carter Bravmann, it's a struggle to focus on the home's smart, newly remodeled interior.
Barely noticeable are the upscale details: 9-foot ceilings, crown molding and red-oak floors. Even the dramatic steel-and-wood staircase to a second-floor loft and 36-foot-high ceiling over the dining room escape the eye.
Instead, visitors are drawn to the windows, to gaze at astonishing, panoramic views of Hollywood, downtown and beyond to snow-peaked San Gabriel Mountains, and to the west past Beverly Hills, Westwood and on to the sea.
"There's definitely a wow factor," Bravmann says of the startling views. "People have to acclimate."
The condo is seven stories up, on top of the Granville Towers, which is at the top of Crescent Heights Boulevard near the Sunset Strip. Built in the 1930s as an apartment building called the Voltaire, the apartments were eventually converted to hotel rooms, and then, in the 1980s, to condos.
Koll, a documentary filmmaker with a background in real estate development, was enchanted with the building long before he set foot in it. As a transplant from Laguna Beach, Koll roomed with a friend in a "grungy little apartment building" near the Strip while he searched for a home to purchase.
From the apartment, Koll and his roommate enjoyed a view of the towers, which evoked in them thoughts of New York and other East Coast cities.
"We would fantasize about this building," Koll recalls. And so when a real estate agent wanted to show him a one-bedroom condo that was for sale in Granville Towers, Koll was happy to go. He was impressed with the doorman, the chandeliers and the luxurious lobby, and the wood-paneled elevator.
Once inside the condo, though, Koll felt disappointed. He took in the small, boxy rooms, the low ceilings, wall-to-wall shag carpeting, oppressing floor-to-ceiling bookcases and, worst of all, the plantation shutters closed tight against the windows.
One word came to mind: "Claustrophobic."
"You might as well have been in a basement," he says.
He told the agent: "This is not really my style."
Wait a minute, she said, you haven't seen it all.
Leading Koll out to the hall and up a back stairwell, she showed him a dusty, unfinished attic space over the condo that had recently been deeded to the current owner. The space had sat unused for most of the century, until damage done by the 1994 Northridge earthquake made it necessary to shore up the building and, as a result of thick plywood flooring and other seismic retrofits, the attic space was now usable. Already, new windows had been installed.
If the attic was finished and opened to the floor below, Koll realized, the 930-square-foot one-bedroom condo could be changed into a 1,768-square-foot, two-story, New York-type loft.
He immediately called his friend Bravmann, an architect, and said: "You've got to see this place."
Koll bought the place early in 1998, moved in and started planning the remodel with Bravmann. By selling stocks, he raised $100,000 to do the job.
Major goals for the remodel included raising the 8-foot-high ceilings, opening the kitchen to the dining and living rooms, and creating a second-story master suite in the attic space.
And while both men like contemporary design, they wanted to bring back some of the 1930s styling the condo had lost over the decades. Although the exterior of the building retained its ornate, stately style, some of the units had turned bland and generic.
Koll moved out of the condo in September 1998 when the design details were worked out, and Los Angeles contractor John Hole began construction.
It was evident during the demolition period that remodeling a unit seven stories up would be a formidable task. Although the elevator was large enough for a king-size mattress, it was not big enough for such things as the giant supporting beams that had to be installed when the wall between the kitchen and living room came down.
To bring jumbo items in and out of the condo, the contractor took out the kitchen window and installed a large crane to hoist materials up from the street. Beams and drywall went up, while an old sofa that had been in the condo since it was a hotel room went out the same window.
The condo's ceilings were raised from 8 feet to 9 feet by rerouting the ductwork, which had originally been installed horizontally and below the ceiling joists. It now runs vertically and alongside the joists.
The tiny kitchen was gutted and opened up to the dining room. It was finished with custom-made cabinets, counters of English slate and back splashes of white tile.
The architect and homeowner both like the look of stainless-steel Sub-Zero refrigerators, but settled for an Amana version for a fraction of the cost that looks almost as elegant. That blended with a Thermador stainless-steel cooktop and oven.
"We were determined to get the look we wanted without paying the price," Koll says.
"The budget could easily have been twice [what it was]," Bravmann adds.