When Pam Shamshiri and her husband, Haines Hall, and their 2 1/2-year-old son Reza, moved into their one-story Craftsman-style cottage in Venice, California, they knew there was work to be done. The house was small (900 square feet), littered with beach-themed accents, and somewhat haphazard in its lines—doors were one height here, another height there.
But Pam, trained as a set designer, was unruffled. She knew minor adjustments could yield dramatic effects. She relied on three foolproof methods to renovate the house:
- Use satin and glossy paints, which are easier to maintain than flat or eggshell. The shinier finishes clean up easily and reflect more light.
- Mirrors pop light into a room and wake up dead space. They also add new vantage points. You can have mirrors cut to fit at hardware and home-improvement stores—smaller ones can be attached to surfaces with glue or double-stick tape.
- Keep seating heights the same—you don't want some people positioned higher than others.
The outside of the bungalow was already idyllic. A lush garden with an old stone fountain had been meticulously cultivated, and a porch running the length of the kitchen and the master bedroom just needed some furniture. "For a good part of the year, we live outside," Pam says. "In summer, it's shady because the clematis is everywhere and the wisteria hangs through the trellis like bells. In winter, it's sunny."
She and Haines turned their porch into living space by setting up a wrought-iron dining table under a globe chandelier at one end and a Moroccan rug at the other. Pam brought comfort outdoors with an old Moroccan daybed and ottoman she painted brown. She covered the cushions in a water- and sun-resistant Sunbrella fabric.
The easiness of the porch, she adds, reminds her of the outdoor Persian tearooms she frequented while growing up in Tehran, the Iranian capital she and her family left in 1979.
As a partner and cofounder of Commune, an architecture-and-design collaborative, Pam has made a career out of customizing environments. She worked hard to "simplfy and edit down" the house. She took out scalloped wood window valances and smoothed the walls, which had been troweled for texture. She highlighted the architecture by deepening the molding around the windows and doors and covering the pickled rafters with a solid coat of creamy white paint.
In the kitchen, a square butcher-block counter anchors the skylit room. Comfortable woven leather stools by Henry Beguelin surround it. A samovar from Iran, Pam's native country, sits on top of an old Wedgewood gas stove.
A combination of serious design elements and whimsical finds gives the house much of its personality. In the dining area, a 1960s Murano glass light fixture hangs over the Paul McCobb rosewood table and chairs.
On a wall near the dining room table, above the wainscot Pam installed, a 19th-century Shaker bed mat hangs above a sophisticated Miró-like oil painting. "We bought the painting at an antiques store," Pam says. "When we went to have it framed, we found a tag that suggested it had been part of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's collection." Pam plans to get the piece appraised.
To create the illusion of more space in the open living-dining area, Pam installed mirrors into the back of built-in cabinets to reflect more light.
Pam's deftness at creating the illusion of space deserves a standing ovation in the tiny area of the cottage she calls the library. Darkening the mismatched blond oak floors with an ebony-walnut stain—which took six coats to get right—made the house look bigger.
The library is defined by a wall of built-in bookcases and a small fireplace that easily heats the whole house. It's outfitted with a tufted green leather Chesterfield (found at a friend's moving sale), and an armchair covered in a Lee Jofa fabric. Both sit just 14 inches high. "I wanted everything low to the ground here," Pam says. With the arrival two-and-a-half years ago of Pam and Haines's son, Reza, Pam discovered the height of the furnishings has an additional plus: It's completely toddler-friendly.
Pam chose pieces with legs to add to the room's overall sense of airiness. A David Hicks rug also defines the bungalow's conversation area.
Pam blended interiors and exteriors and combined modern styles with vintage fixtures. In the bathroom, green trim connects house to garden, while black paint on the claw-footed tub's underside modernizes the vintage fixture.
Pam made sure that her stylish designs were also kid-friendly. Reza has a play area set up in the former garage, with walls and floors protected by interlocking rubber tiles.
Pam's sense of whimsy also translated into Reza's bedroom. Cowboy-print curtains hang above a 1950s George Nelson dresser.
Elsewhere in the house, photographs are interspersed with paintings by Haines's grandfather, William Haines Hall, a well-known illustrator in the 1930s.
A sofa designed by Pam's company, Commune, sits below an ingenious gallery wall: Wood slats allow for easy rearrangement of the art, all of which is hung with "S" hooks.
In Pam's bedroom, works of art double as traditional design elements. A 1960s screen by Italian designer Tommaso Barbi, which Pam cadged from her father's furniture showroom in Iran, serves as a headboard. Textiles from Africa, China and Indonesia are on the bed.
Dark brown walls also bring peace and intimacy to the master bedroom, but French doors to the porch keep the room from feeling claustrophobic.
From the bedroom, Pam and Haines can gaze upon an organic, textural tableau on the porch. On display are a mirror made by an unknown artist from northern California, a Moroccan candlestick, a table made of driftwood and glass and two hand-thrown vases from Atwater Pottery.
While Pam has streamlined the home, she hasn't obliterated the idiosyncratic charm that initially captivated her. "I almost freaked out in the beginning of the project," she admits. "The whole house was hand-done and nothing lined up." But along the way, she welcomed harmless irregularities. "It's a bungalow," she shrugs. "You just go with it."