Bright Lights, Big City


In the renovation of this Los Angeles apartment, Courtney Small upgrades the nostalgic beauty of Hollywood’s heyday for the modern era

Photos: Timothy Ragan

The classic apartment buildings of Los Angeles, capped with neon signs that spotlight their fanciful names, are as much a part of the landscape of the city as its detached homes. Built in the 20s and 30s, they cluster around the original movie studio locations and their list of former tenants reads like a who’s who of old Hollywood. Their lore and location, style and beautiful lines appealed to Guillermo Zalamea, a New York transplant, who runs Gratamira Consulting, an intimate, hands-on pr firm focused on interiors and design. He turned to Courtney Small of CS & FS Interiors to help him transform the generous one bedroom.

Zalamea and Small had reconnected through her mother, the real estate agent who helped him find the apartment. “We realized we speak the same language and share the same approach to a thoughtful remodel and design,” says Small, whose work specializes in restoration projects. Zalamea dreamed of a sophisticated home that would double as an office and allow him to host his clients. “We agreed on big changes, minor impact,” says Small. The goal was to update the space without losing the original details that herald this vibrant period in Los Angeles’ design history, including wood floors, moldings and multi-paned casement windows. 

Small took the apartment down to its original form. “We knocked out the sheetrock ceiling and reclaimed the space’s original height. These are not large rooms, so every inch gained was significant to the home’s overall spatial quality,” she explains. Zalamea doesn’t cook which freed up the dining room to be rethought of as an office. “We created a flexible work space that showcases an over-scaled brass desk and a built-in bookcase. It can be transformed into a dining table if friends come for dinner.”  Zalamea’s art collection winds it way throughout the apartment. “We agreed early on that walls in the main rooms would be of minimal décor since deep, saturated colors were used on foundational art pieces,” Small recalls. Instead, in an unusual move, the bedroom became a centerpiece for the art. “We hung it gallery style and it ended up working visually really well.” To differentiate the entry foyer from the living room, Small painted it black. To brighten and modernize the space, she stripped the dark hardwood floors down to their natural white oak color, sealing them with a satin clear coat. The result is a striking yet comfortable home.

“I bring a lot to the table, but when you walk into the apartment, I disappear. What you see is Guillermo.”