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Warren Schwartz's recipe for a remodel

The Westside Tavern owner enlists his parents in fixing up his Eagle Rock bungalow.

November 28, 2009|By Jenn Garbee

Warren Schwartz picks up a copper sauté pan on his stove and gives the potatoes inside a vigorous shake. He pauses for a moment to pat his father on the back before checking on the prime rib roast in the oven.

It's a heartfelt moment. A rare one too. Father Larry Schwartz, a retired lieutenant in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, has taken a brief leave from Iraq, where he is a crime scene investigation consultant. Son Warren, 40, the chef-owner of Westside Tavern, spends most evenings behind the stove at his West L.A. restaurant and rarely finds time to cook at home. But tonight the two are here, not only to savor a dinner of dry-aged beef but also to spend time in the 1920s Eagle Rock bungalow they renovated together -- to reminisce about the trials of hanging closet doors and the wonders of self-leveling cement.

"I'd been working so many hours at restaurants over the years, I really reconnected with Mom and Dad," Warren says of the two years he spent remodeling his house with his father and his mother, Vivian. "Mom would be painting the molding while Dad and I were hanging doors."

Purchasing a home was not a priority for Warren five years ago when he was the executive chef at the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica.

"It was Mom and Dad pushing and shoving that got me into the housing market," he says.

That encouragement was peppered with a hearty dose of opinionated family banter. "We all have strong personalities. Right, Pop?" Warren says, slicing fresh nectarines for a grilled fruit and radicchio salad.

Although Vivian, an insurance attorney, was eager for her son to purchase his first home, the house was not her first choice.

"I didn't see Warren's vision at first," she says, leaning against the cobalt-colored cabinets in the kitchen. "I saw this house as a really big project that he didn't have time for."

Warren admits that his knife skills are more impressive than his power drilling technique. "The whole house was a mess and needed a lot of work," he says. "Until then, I'd spent most of my time in the kitchen."

Warren's grandfather was a finishing carpenter, and some of those skills were passed down to Larry, who was determined that his son learn to install hinged doors and tile the bathroom wall himself.

"When Warren and I were hanging doors, I had to keep reminding myself to let him figure it out, not to take that learning away from him by doing it all myself," Larry says.

For Warren, challenging projects were a welcome stress release after a long shift at the hotel. He could come home from the Viceroy, work on a project with his mom and dad, and not have to run decisions through a corporate chain of command. Over time, he even taught his dad a thing or two.

"Warren would pull up stuff on the Internet, like this amazing self-leveling cement," Larry says, "and it would actually work."

Some projects did involve a few too many hours of family togetherness. Installing the travertine tiles in the master bath required several trips to San Clemente and much waiting -- and waiting -- for them to set.

"We'd stand there and hold the tiles, a few at a time, waiting forever for them to stick," recalls Vivian, chuckling. "And that fuchsia paint Warren had to have in the bathroom took seven coats."

"Nine coats," Warren says, grinning. "And it's red, not pink."

With dinner almost ready, Warren grabs a knife from the kitchen drawer to carve the roast. The extra-long countertop was meant to allow the three of them to cook side by side, but as Vivian brings a platter of heirloom tomatoes with burrata cheese to the dining table, she says Mom and Dad try to stay out of the kitchen. "That's his thing."

Warren's parents do have a presence, though, here and at Westside Tavern. Warren says he uses the experience of remodeling the house -- the struggles that he and his father, those "strong personalities," encountered during the renovations -- to train his restaurant staff.

"I tell them it doesn't matter whose idea it was to hang the door just so, or who suggested adding something to a dish to make the perfect mac 'n' cheese," Warren says. His mantra: "Let's just figure it out together, and we all benefit from the end result."

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