Tue. Feb 27th, 2024

“It was the most beautiful house I’d ever seen,” says Paula Ayala, a photographer, film editor, and midcentury-design fanatic, of the first time she walked through the front door of Greg Ledesma’s half-renovated Eichler in 2018.

Greg, an interior designer with more than two decades of experience, felt the same way. He had spent years ogling the midcentury homes in the Fairhills neighborhood of Orange, California, before a model by renowned architects and Eichler designers A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons dropped into his price range in 2012. He pounced, his design antenna on high alert with a plan to modernize, knock down walls, and liberally apply his own perspective.

Built in 1964, the home is one of 80 developed by Eichler and designed by Jones & Emmons for Orange’s Fairhills neighborhood.  Like most Eichlers, it features a fairly closed facade with windows that are either clerestory or clouded glass.

With four bedrooms and two baths, the Eichler Plan 16-05 boasts a striking double-gable roof and a central atrium.

Whereas the facade is closed to the street, the interior opens to the central atrium, which is one of Paula and Greg’s favorite places in the home. All the glass makes the design feel larger than its 1,986 square feet.

With a limited budget, Greg’s renovation plans stalled. “It was lucky,” he says, explaining that after living with the home’s original layout, he came to appreciate the original vision and the harmony of the spaces. That vision—to package high end architecture and indoor/outdoor living for middle-class consumption—meant the home’s distinctive dual-gable roof and central atrium were perfectly balanced with modestly proportioned bedrooms, a kitchen, and bath.

The original Jones & Emmons floor plan from 1964.

Greg’s neighbors, many of whom were original owners, invited him into their unaltered Eichlers. “The homes felt completely timeless,” says Greg. “You could see the deep green of the mature gardens from every room, and the mahogany walls just shone with richness, so warm and inviting.” From that point, he was committed to restoring his home to its original glory.

With his background in interior design, Greg had the skills to complete most of the work himself, and hired contractors only where necessary.

Six years into renovating, Greg had completed structural fixes and repaired the leaky roof and defunct air conditioner. He was in the process of stripping away the white paint from the walls and ceiling when he and Paula met at the Long Beach Antique Market. When she moved in, the renovation “took off like a freight train,” he says.

When the couple started dating, Greg and Paula would take his classic Buick for rides through nearby Santiago Canyon. “For us, there’s just something about being in that car, nothing replicates it,” says Greg. “The interior is cherry red and platinum—totally exquisite,” says Paula. “It feels like a spaceship.”

Dwell: As creatives, can you talk a little bit about your shared style sensibility?

Greg: We met at the Long Beach Antique Market, started talking, and haven’t stopped since. We are both midcentury design nerds, and we really live that lifestyle. Our talents complement each other really well, and we enjoy bouncing house ideas off each other. Paula is great about knowing when there’s too much and it’s time to pare something down.

Paula: We love collaborating. Within two months of meeting, he suggested we start our shop, Paula y Gregorio. I said yes immediately!

Tell us about your online vintage shop, Paula y Gregorio.

Greg: We have both been collecting since the early 2000s. I had a vintage shop in Palm Springs, just before the real estate market skyrocketed there. Unsurprisingly, it was an incredible place to collect midcentury items.

Paula: We really got the shop going during the pandemic when I started photographing the pieces in our home.

Greg: It makes so much sense to use our house as a showroom. It’s invaluable to display a midcentury piece in a midcentury home. It really captures the strength of the style and shows scale.

Greg sits in a vintage Sheriff chair with matching ottoman by Brazilian designer Sergio Rodriguez.

Paula, how does your photography reflect the Eichler style?

Paula: I work with a 35mm camera that I love. It’s very, very special to me, and I know when to use it and what works. This house has so much beautiful life and warmth, and the light it gives us is just amazing. It tells me when to take photographs at the very warmest moments, which make you truly feel something. Often, it’s in the evening at golden hour. I like to keep things very natural, and even if the lighting isn’t perfect, or shots come out a little dark, I feel it’s the best way to capture the moment.

The vintage hanging wall cabinet was designed by Florence Knoll for Knoll International, while the vintage sofa is by Mario Bellini Camaleond for B&B Italia.

Greg: Paula’s ability to capture the house on film really blew my mind. It’s just the right fit for the era and the perfect expression of my original vision. The warmth she captures is different than digital—it feels more real, not as photoshopped and ultra clear. With an iPhone you can take a trillion photos, but she is mindful and considerate with every shot and never takes more than one or two.

“The more grit and grain in the photo, the more real it feels,” says Paula, who prefers to shoot with a 35mm camera.

What are some key elements of your renovation? 

Greg: The mahogany walls and redwood ceilings really help anchor the living spaces. As is true with so many Eichlers, ours had been painted over during the ’70s or ’80s. To restore them, I have been removing each entire wood panel one by one and bringing them outside, and then using a chemical paint stripper before sanding them.

Paula: The atrium at the core of our home and its maturing plants really balance out the colors of our interior design. Every day we appreciate the planting we did early on. The essence of an Eichler is the indoor/outdoor balance and without that greenery, it would feel hollow.

This vintage carved wooden panel is by ERA Industries.

In the atrium, a weeping blue atlas cedar grows gracefully over the juniper ground cover.

“I still have a ways to go,” Greg says of his plan to strip every wall of its aftermarket paint job.

The stripped ceilings reveal the original dark-stained redwood beams.

How did you select new flooring materials?

Greg: Since the original floors had serious water damage, I ripped them out and replaced them with VCT (vinyl composition tile), which is great for high traffic areas and offers a wide selection of tones. Plus, it’s budget-friendly and similar to original Eichler materials. The wood-look tile has a nice, warm tone, but since VCT can be a little bland, we added a midcentury Persian carpet for character and color.

Greg and Paula have a terrific collection of vintage planters and decorative vessels. “I’ve always had a passion for ceramics,” says Greg, “especially pieces with unique glazes.”

The collection reflects the couple’s style, background, and culture: Greg’s parents immigrated from Mexico while Paula’s family moved to California from Argentina.

The wood and brass head sculpture with earrings, designed by Taller Tinta, references Pre-Columbian culture.

“We also really enjoy California craft design for its great mixture of earthy and organic components,” says Paula.

Greg is particularly proud of the hand and foot sculptures, made of gold leaf and wood, by the celebrated German-Mexican surrealist Pedro Friedeberg.

The office features a vintage black and walnut Chieftain chair by Finn Juhl. “All of these pieces have a great patina,” notes Greg. “Vintage is often not pristine, and we think a few dings make it better. They show that a piece has been loved and used.”

So many people update kitchens to find more space. How do you make the most of the smaller cooking area?

Paula: Most people want something big and fancy, but we love our little kitchen. I cook all the time and make complicated dishes, and I’ve got plenty of space. I appreciate that everything is so accessible, simple, and easy to clean. It’s a beautiful kitchen.

Greg: The smaller scale means we’ve really learned to pare back and declutter, to live more simply, and enjoy the house with a longer-term view rather than date stamp our renovation. And, the original sliding cabinets, for example, are really elegant. They just glide on their tracks. We also have all the original appliances, including the original electric oven.

“I love to laugh, and I love silly things,” says Paula. “I was delighted when I found this  6-foot-long old-school pencil.”

“Each of these rugs is unique,” Greg points out. “This one has become a key component of the space and the colors work great with the original brick fireplace.”

Just inside the glass, the stone floor serves as a natural and seamless transition from the atrium to the interior living area.

What’s the hardest part about restoring an Eichler?

Greg: Access to materials. Many of the original components of Eichler construction are no longer available. Some glass elements—such as the frosted glass by the front door—just aren’t made anymore. We’ve found comparable equivalents, but it’s not the same. Some of us Eichler nerds patrol the neighborhood, watching out for new owners renovating original homes. Then we either ask kindly to salvage pieces or just dumpster dive!

Do you have a favorite spot in the home?

Paula: Some of my happiest moments are spent with our kids out in the atrium. I put a little blanket out for baby Lucia while six-year-old Nina plays with the fairy garden. We’ve got a hummingbird feeder and there are always birds—we’ve even named some of them. We also love the backyard. We live in a cul-de-sac on a larger lot and the backyard space is huge. There’s a lawn and a play area and a pool. We have friends over all the time. 

Greg: We thrived during the pandemic. Paula would fill up the pool with water balloons, and we’d have yard games and Argentinian barbecue, and basically turn the backyard into a resort. We’re total kids.

“It’s an extension of our living room,” says Greg of the atrium.

Greg and Paula splurged on some full-grown plants for the atrium, planting them alongside younger plants that have grown in over time.

“I’ll never get tired of all the glass,” says Paula. “We love our indoor/outdoor lifestyle, and feeling so in tune with nature and our garden.”

“There are little touches throughout the home that are unique and special to us, like the little stones and shells in the atrium,” says Paula. “We’ve picked them up over the years on camping vacations or on trips to the beach.”

 “Greg is a master at balancing rocks,” says Paula.

The home opens onto a generous back garden, where the couple likes to host parties and barbecues. “The back is the next step of our renovation,” says Greg.

The garden is easily accessible through the sliding glass doors in the living area and bedrooms.

What about the small studio space—how do you use that?

Greg: The first owner built it in the late ’60s to use as a workshop, and then his son moved into it for a while. By the time I bought the house, it was just a shack, a total eyesore, and I figured I would tear it down. But once I started using it as a workshop I realized it was totally perfect.

“It’s a fantastic space,” says Paula of the studio Greg created out of a shed a previous owner had built. “He installed sliding barn doors, and when he works he leaves them open so we can see him from the house.”

“I also installed a mini fridge,” says Greg. “I leave the doors open when we’re entertaining, and we turn on the lights and turn up the music.”

What is the most surprising thing you’ve found about living in this house?

Paula: I was first amazed by all of the glass and how the space is so in tune with nature and sunlight. We really live an indoor/outdoor life, with trees visible from every room. It’s so peaceful. 

Greg: And really conducive to family life.

Paula: We like the feeling of being together, even when we’re each busy with our own activities. Here, everything is transparent, and we can all see each other and feel like we’re together.

The vintage leather Cab dining chairs by Mario Bellini for B&B Italia surround the vintage mosaic dining table embedded with Italian glass tiles.

The Eichler is such a great backdrop for the furniture and art you collect. Can you tell us about a piece that’s really significant to you?

Greg: One painting that is really special to me is of a woman and child that I bought 17 years ago and then put it into storage for years. In the back of my mind, I always hoped that I would gift it to the mother of my child if ever I was fortunate enough to have a family. I gave it to Paula last year on Mother’s Day not knowing we would soon find out she was expecting a second child. It now hangs in our bedroom over Lucia’s bassinet.

Paula: It truly means a lot to both of us.

 This painting was done in the early ’60s by Jesus Leuus, a Mexican modernist.

What makes living in an Eichler so special for you? 

Greg: Joseph Eichler’s vision was amazing. Paula and I feel particularly proud to live in a neighborhood that was one of first to incorporate fair housing practices. We are committed to using our shop and our Instagram to promote the original Eichler aesthetic. There is a real demand for this type of midcentury home, and I think the relative abundance of available Eichlers make their original features seem more fungible and more open to renovation than, say, a Schindler. I hope that Paula’s beautiful photos of our family having fun and thriving in this house inspire people to try living in these terrific spaces and enjoying this lifestyle.

By admin

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