AD100 designer Brigette Romanek reimagines a 1925 Spanish colonial house for the modern age
Photography by Douglas Friedman
When your house is saddled with a dark past, the only way forward is to brighten it up. Originally home to silent film star Priscilla Bonner and husband Emmanuel Woolfan, M.D., the 3,000-square-foot 1925 Spanish colonial house was the scene of a death by suicide (when a debilitated Woolfan fatally shot himself to spare his wife from having to become his caretaker) and heated protests (a Los Angeles superintendent lived here during the civil rights movement) before it fell into disrepair on its West Hollywood perch.
The unsightly property was also dark in the literal sense. “It looked like the Munsters’ house,” says Kent Belden, CEO and founder of creative management firm The Only Agency (stylists for the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga are among the clients), who recognized the home’s potential and purchased it with his husband, Louis Re, M.D. In 2019, the bicoastal couple tapped dear friend and frequent collaborator, AD100 designer Brigette Romanek, to transform it into a light-filled refuge for the modern age. “The first thing we did was trim back all of the overgrown trees and landscape, which immediately opened it up to all of this beautiful natural light.”
From there, they followed the sun and gutted the place, tearing out walls and ripping up floors, installing updated electrical, gas, and plumbing systems and contemporizing the interior spaces with a creative edge. “I wanted it to be a completely modern take on classic 1920s California-Spanish architecture,” Belden says. “The geometry of the house exudes old Hollywood glamour, the furnishings are modern European with a pop of 1970s rock and roll, and the kitchen is pure 21st century.”
Much of that vibrant eclecticism is thanks to Belden and Re’s world-class collection of art, which features works by Jeff Koons, David Hockney, Kehinde Wiley, and Lisa Yuskavage, but also the creative spirit of its owners. “This may sound corny, but they were my inspiration,” says Romanek. “They are a cool, full-of-life couple that favor contemporary design mixed with a bit of whimsy and fun. The colors needed to be lively and as invigorating as they are.” Case in point: the vibrant pair of goldenrod chairs set on a bubble-gum pink rug in the living room. A custom Fornasetti credenza enlivens vintage furniture in the dining room, and antique-mirror wall panels play off a tessellated floor tile in the master bathroom.
Despite the elevated aesthetic, the vibe remains that of a family home. The house is sprinkled with souvenirs from the couple’s travels, and family photos appear throughout. Their Rhodesian ridgeback Ernest is often seen lounging by the pool. “Because this is my West Coast base, it was really important that I found a space that felt ‘homey,’ as well as a space that would allow me to entertain guests,” says Belden. It seems as though he’s found one with a bright future, too.