• Jessica Bellef

L.A. Story

A feature I wrote for the April 2022 issue of Inside Out magazine.

Up in the Bird Streets of the Hollywood Hills is a Spanish villa that’s been given a glamorous new look by the larger-than-life Novogratz family.

Set behind paparrazi-deflecting hedges in an exclusive Hollywood enclave that Elizabeth Taylor once called home, this modern Spanish villa is a blockbuster of a rebuild. Perched in the Hollywood Hills along a glamorous and highly sought-after strip called the Bird Streets (a cluster including Nightingale and Robin), the 1930s-era property was in poor shape when celebrity interior designers Cortney and Robert Novogratz purchased it in 2019.

In 2014, after living in New York for decades, they decided to shake things up and relocate the family to LA. The Bird Street House is the second west-coast home the duo has designed for their clan and their largest project to date. "We found that it's much more fun to build for yourself and make all the decisions," says Cortney. "With no client to answer to, all the creative ideas are yours."

The Novogratzs' vision for the Bird Street House was to "bring back the original charm", but digging through the layers of the tired corner property revealed countless issues. The only option was to tear the house down and start again, much to the couple's disappointment.

They replicated the original layout (wrapped around an internal courtyard) but extended the ceilings and added another level, bringing the bedroom count up to five to accommodate their XL-sized family. "To be frank, we were very lucky with the dimensions and layout," says Cortney. "The house is quite large yet still feels cosy."

Despite its newness, the villa slips right into the leafy street's ensemble of historical mansions with a star-studded air. "We wanted to pay homage to the neighbourhood and the old Hollywood feel by staying with a Spanish design, from the classic terracotta roof tiles made in Santa Barbara to the copper gutters and white stucco," Cortney explains.

The original internal courtyard, where indoors and out merge, screamed 'old Hollywood', so they made it the focal point of the home in their design, too. "We wanted to play the entire house off that," she adds. The open-air space, now finished in handmade encaustic tiles and bordered by steel-framed doors and windows, traps the sparkling Californian sunshine and circulates breezes throughout the voluminous interiors.

The Novogratz are known for their playful approach to design, with a soulful, eclectic mix of high and low woven into their schemes, along with a healthy amount of colour, art and vintage pieces. As a departure from their usual 'more is more' method, the Bird Street House confidently radiates a pared-back vibe.

"Someone said this house is our best-edited home, which I took as a compliment," says Cortney. "We love lots of things, so it's hard to edit, but the house dictated the final, streamlined look." Its clean, contemporary lines are warmed by oak details, softly hued Venetian plaster and custom flourishes such as the Art Deco-inspired fireplace.

New Yorkers at heart, the family recently returned to their roots on the east coast, putting the Bird Street House on the market and leaving the LA lifestyle behind. "We really love the house, but it was time to go back to New York," says Cortney.

They are currently rehabilitating a 19th-century townhouse in Greenwich Village, which they plan to move into as soon as they can. One does wonder, however, when the next exciting project will tempt them elsewhere. "Somehow, we always end up selling the houses we live in," says Cortney. "We were once called high-class gypsies and it's sort of true!"

Photography by Amy Neunsinger

Copy by Jessica Bellef

Thank you to The Novogratz and Inside Out magazine.

Feature also available to read online here