A Songwriter and His Sister Take on a Hollywood Hills Fixer-Upper
CJ Baran needed a new home in Los Angeles for personal and professional reasons. After living in an apartment for years, Mr. Baran, 32, a songwriter and music producer, longed for a house with a view and outdoor space. But he was also desperately in need of a home where he could make some noise.
“I needed a place where I could be loud,” said Mr. Baran, who has worked with artists including Carly Rae Jepsen, Panic! at the Disco, and Melanie Martinez. “In the apartment, I was always getting complaints, which was so frustrating.”
With the help of his sister, Elisa Baran, an interior designer and real estate agent, he hunted for an ideal space high in the Hollywood Hills. At first, he hoped to find a move-in ready house, but all the best ones were priced well beyond his budget, so he began looking for a fixer-upper instead.
In the summer of 2017, he found one: a 2,200-square-foot house built in 1977, with a recently stalled renovation that had left it with open walls, sections of unfinished drywall and bare subfloors.
The asking price was $2.9 million, but the seller accepted Mr. Baran’s offer of $2.5 million. When a home inspector found structural problems, Mr. Baran negotiated a credit of more than $300,000 to put toward repairs, before closing that September.
Because the house wasn’t immediately habitable, Mr. Baran kept his apartment and tasked his sister with redesigning his new interior as a live-work space, enclosing a portion of the covered terrace to create a music studio and adding a pool.
“Our vision was to make it feel minimalist, with no clutter,” Ms. Baran said. “We’re both into Japanese living and Brutalist architecture, so we combined those styles.”
To start, Ms. Baran made a few structural changes, expanding the family room and taking down the walls separating it from the kitchen, to create a wide-open space. She also expanded the living room, pushing out the back wall to maximize the property’s expansive view over the city and eliminating columns to make way for wall-to-wall sliding-glass doors. In all, she added some 800 square feet.
The kitchen has cabinets from Reform and Calacatta Arabescato marble surfaces. The family room was expanded by pushing out the back wall and eliminating columns.Credit…Michael Clifford
Aiming for an almost monastic look inside, she and Mr. Baran decided to plaster the walls in a custom off-white color. “We wanted the color to be not too light and not too beige, but to provide some warmth and mottling,” Ms. Baran said. “And we named that color after him: CJ.”
Using the same plaster, she designed a hard, sofa-like seating element for the living room. Around the TV in the family room, she had the plaster installer use his trowel to create vertical grooves, giving the impression of a built-in media cabinet.
She continued the off-white plasterwork in the new primary suite, where she created a bank of plaster-covered closets with concealed hinges at one end of the bedroom. In the primary bathroom, she designed a custom tub with a plywood base covered in waterproof tadelakt plaster of the same color.
Ms. Baran even used leftover plaster to create custom artwork, including a wood carving of an arch that now hangs in the foyer. To finish the floors, she added European oak in a herringbone pattern that was whitewashed to roughly match the plaster.
She was just as focused in her choice of stone. All of the home’s built-in stone features, including the kitchen counters and backsplash, and the walk-in shower and sink in the new primary bathroom, are made from the same kind of marble: Calacatta Arabescato.
For free-standing furniture and accessories, she chose more natural materials, heavy on texture: travertine coffee tables for the family room; a custom daybed with a weathered wooden base for the living room; and craggy onyx table lamps for the guest room.
At first, the siblings thought the renovation would take about a year and a half. But that was before they encountered delays in getting a building permit, followed by several surprises during construction.
To build the small pool and hot tub Mr. Baran wanted, a geologist studied the hillside property and estimated that supports would need to be dug down 17 feet to sit on bedrock.
“It took eight months to dig these holes down 17 feet,” Mr. Baran said. “But there was no bedrock. So we had to keep digging, and it ended up being 31 feet to bedrock, which took an additional four months.”
A little more than three years after he bought the house, he finally moved there in November 2020, along with his wife-to-be, Marikah Baran, whom he met while construction was underway. Fortunately, she shares his passion for tidy minimalism, he said: “She’s the cleanest neat freak ever, which is awesome for me, and awesome for this house.”
Although the renovation took twice as long as expected, and cost about $460,000, Mr. Baran is happy he stayed the course.
“I fall in love with it more every day,” he said. “I really wanted to design a place that was an oasis for artists to come and work. We come in and write, and then they’ll maybe go out to focus on lyrics while I’m building the track, and they can feel like they’re at a resort.”
Mr. Baran has also noticed that some of his new neighbors haven’t been quite so fortunate with their renovations. “There are other houses on the block that started way before us, and I thought would finish sooner,” he said. “But they’re still under construction.”
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