Keep it Simple


ARA-la Studio turns dreams into a reality for a design industry executive and her family in L.A.

A custom front door leads to a wall of design books and accessories. Photos by Mariko Reed.

“We believe design doesn’t happen in the vacuum of a design studio, but should be a collaborative and fluid process, from design through construction. In our experience, it is uniquely shaped by the clients, builders, consultants, site, climate, events and connections that give personality and specificity to each project,” says Aejie Rhyu, principal of ARA-la Studio. “We design spaces and things for people who use and live in them. We give equal, thoughtful, and realistic but imaginative consideration to all facets of design, big and small.”

Lighting plays a key role in the design. In the kitchen the pendants are from Muuto. The wall sconce is from Ravenhill Studio.
Photos by Mariko Reed.

Erin Cullerton who runs Design Agency Co., a renowned public relations agency for architecture and design firms, hired ARA-la Studio to work with she and her wife to overhaul their home in L.A., based upon the firm’s approach. They originally purchased the home in 2012 with big dreams of customizing it for their family. “Since the original 1940s house was so simple without much original character remaining due to an uninspired, previous renovation in the 70s and because the clients wanted the house to be more contemporary, I was drawn to how we were going to elevate the simplicity of the architecture into something more refined,” says Rhyu. “The homeowners had been working with a mutual friend and architect Jenny Myers, for a year to work on dream scenario floor plan layouts. After their explorations (and some rough budget estimates), they had a preliminary plan that opened up the interior spaces and optimized the tight lot, and when Jenny asked me to take the project on into completion, we started by visualizing the 2D floor plan into 3D space and physical tactility.”

The subdued dining room features furniture from Design Within Reach and the lighting is from Mooi. Photos by Mariko Reed.

Overall, Cullerton and her wife wanted a clean, contemporary aesthetic but spaces that also felt warm and not rigid. “Because of the desire for a restrained palette, we focused on the craft, quality, and precision of intentionally minimal detailing,” Rhyu recalls. “We elevated the simplicity of the original architecture while finding ways to add detail and warmth with a limited but refined palette. Refining the architecture was key given our studio’s desire to contextually relate the home to its closest neighbor—the historic Neutra VDL Residence.”

A soothing accent wall in the primary suite is grounded by wallpaper from Schumacher. Photos by Mariko Reed.

Inside, modernization continued by devising an open floor plan that also carved out intimate spaces for the family to enjoy. “Private and semi-private spaces—like the front study and ADU—which serves as both an office and guest room, were designed at a comfortable and intimate scale with nooks and built-ins to alleviate a feeling of being lost in a space that felt too austere, too flat, or too open,” says Rhyu. “Evident throughout is a subtle and neutral color palette of white oak millwork that absorbs natural light; textured linen wallpaper in the primary bedroom and bathroom inspired by Japanese ink paintings; and nuanced pops of color that prove timeless.”

In the primary bathroom, the floor tile is by Mutina Puzzle Collection. Photos by Mariko Reed.

The team installed expansive La Cantina doors to connect the interiors with the back garden in addition to strategically relocating openings to create more views and connections with nature. “Making the most of the lush planting all around by opening up the house to the exterior, bringing in more natural light, and taking advantage of the uniquely Southern Californian play of light on the neutral materials, made the house feel enclosed by a garden on all sides,” she says.

In their daughter’s room, the couple installed a feline focused wallpaper in her bed nook, by Chasing Paper. Photos by Mariko Reed.

The connection to the landscape was another top priority for the couple because they had worked with Steven Fiske of Plot Design LA since owning the home, to elevate the landscape experience around the property. “The result was a lush garden at the rear of the property with front yard landscape work completed after the renovation wrapped,” says Fiske.

An ADU used for guests and work features semi-custom cabinetry by Semihandmade. Photos by Mariko Reed.

A longstanding dream that was almost disrupted by Covid, turned into reality for Cullerton and her wife and their young daughter. The final result is a simple, serene residence that reflects their collective styles. “It’s not hyperbole to say that working with Aejie was not only a fun experience, but also a dream come true,” says Erin Cullerton. “Her previous experience in larger shops (Commune and SOM, for example) meant that she brought serious design chops and expertise to our relatively small-scale project, as well as a level of professionalism and diplomacy that was applaudable when things got stressful during construction. Perhaps even more amazing was her ability to always focus intently on our specific design requests and ideas, while always keeping the aesthetic throughline in mind.”