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Downsizing can be liberating, Brentwood couple finds

L.A. designer David Dalton makes a 'second home' condo -- now their primary home -- work for owners used to more space.

March 07, 2009|Audrey Davidow

It was May 2005, the giddy days of real estate, and Diane and Anthony Cordova had sold their 1,800-square-foot, two-bedroom town home in Westwood after just one open house. Their plan: to move into not one new home, but two -- a dream house they would build out in Palm Springs, and a one- bedroom pied-a-terre in the city.

They had already pounced on the condo -- a rundown 1970s fixer in the heart of Brentwood -- a few months earlier. While they picked out new fixtures, they talked about pool designs for the planned four-bedroom retreat in the desert.

But as the year progressed, and as the market forecasters turned gloomy and doomy, the Cordovas got nervous and pulled the plug on their Palm Springs plan.

"Thank God we got out when we did," says Anthony, 41, a talent manager and TV consultant. "Because right after that, the market just crashed."

They had, however, already gutted and poured a good chunk of money into gussying up that Brentwood condo, whose potential lay in its bright and open floor plan. All of a sudden, what was meant to be their part-time city escape was now the couple's one and only residence.

"We were horrified," admits Diane, 48, formerly a human resources executive, now working on an English literature degree at UCLA. "We were thinking, 'How on Earth are we going to live here full time?' "

The condo was certainly a far cry from the Bay Area house they had owned years earlier, a 3,000-square-foot Japanese-inspired Craftsman. "It's as if we were coming full circle back to the crappy apartments we had started out in," Diane says. "But in a really bizarre way, it's opened up a whole new streamlined life for us."

The couple hired L.A. designer David Dalton to update the Brady Bunch-era condo into a cool modern pad. But in addition to scraping off the cottage-cheese ceilings and replacing peeling linoleum, Dalton would now have to condense the Cordovas' full-time life into the part-time condo. The first challenge: storage.

Measuring tape in hand, Dalton spent hours planning kitchen and living room cabinets. Then he enforced a brutal recycling policy. The couple's wardrobe was nearly halved in order to fit into one small walk-in closet. Items that hadn't been used for three months went to Goodwill, and Diane ditched one of her favorite pastimes -- shopping.

"I used to love to get catalogs, but now I've gotten myself off every mailing list because I don't want to clutter up my house," she says. "It's funny how the house can dictate your lifestyle, rather than the other way around."

In fact, for everything they have purged, the Cordovas say they have gained so much more. The smaller financial burden has allowed Diane to fulfill her dream of going back to school. And the living is just easier.

"There's very little stress because there's nothing to do," she says. "There are no improvement projects or yard work. It's completely finished and perfect just the way it is, which is very freeing."

To further streamline the space, Dalton widened the hall closet, installed kitchen cabinets that rise to the ceiling and added white lacquered IKEA shelves to just about any wall he could -- in the entry way, above the range, over the wet bar. The resulting design is a stylish nod to the apartment's '70s origins, complete with a bright yellow shag rug anchoring the living room.

"David is like our Yoda," Diane says from her black-and-white houndstooth sofa. "When he suggested that streamlining our life would be really healthy for us, we thought, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever, David.' But when we saw the final design, it was like everything unfolded to us. It was like that scene in 'The Wizard of Oz' when Dorothy sees everything in color for the first time."

Dalton, who has been through the process of downsizing himself, knows just how liberating the experience can be.

"Living with less stuff frees up time to pursue the other things in life," he says. "If you spend less time cleaning, organizing and maintaining things, you can go out more, spend more time with friends and family. Read more. Anything."

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home@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

For interior designer David Dalton, the Cordova home presented multiple design challenges, not the least of which was how to fit a home office into the one-bedroom condo. Dalton's solution: Rather than carve out a dedicated office space in the kitchen or bedroom, as many people do, he camouflaged a work area in the heart of the home.

The designer created a cabinet that wraps around the L-shaped sectional sofa in the living room (seen on Page 1). Behind the cabinet's zebrawood doors, the Cordovas have space for a computer, scanner, fax machine and even a full-fledged filing system.

"Everything in this house has a place," Anthony Cordova says. "It's like a puzzle. It all fits together, which makes me feel very calm and happy."

-- Audrey Davidow

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