When designer Jeffrey Alan Marks was hired for a project in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles, the woman of the house gave him a succinct brief: “I want a rock-and-roll farmhouse.” By that she meant no chintz or checks, and no quaint cottage-y touches to call up the charms of country living. Instead, she wanted bold, beautiful, and maybe a tiny bit butch.
The facade is illuminated with sconces by Rejuvenation, and the front door is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Pitch Black.
There was no need to conjure the nostalgia usually associated with the rural aesthetic, because the house was already situated on an actual farm of sorts: The property includes three structures on less than two acres, with a garden and a stable that can house as many as 12 horses.
On the guest room patio, the cocktail table and daybed, which has cushions covered in a Holland & Sherry fabric, are midcentury pieces by John Good.
“The trick,” says Marks, “was to make a house in the middle of L.A. look like a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.” The homeowners, who had lived in Europe for a number of years, purchased the plans from Napa Valley–based architect Howard Backen, who is renowned for structures inspired by the farmhouse vernacular. By the time they called Marks, they already had changes in mind.
The stable garden is planted with lettuces, vegetables, and herbs, with tuteurs for climbing peas and beans.
Originally, the U-shaped house had been oriented around a pool, but the couple decided that they would prefer a substantial cutting and vegetable garden. It was also important to them that all the building materials be rustic. Thus began a journey that led to Chicago, where bricks that now make up the floors of the larder, laundry, and wine rooms were procured (from a recently razed building), and Austin, Texas, where Marks reclaimed wood and metal siding from old barns.
The custom concrete sofas on a screened porch are topped with Brenda Antin pillows, the 1990 Mats Theselius chair is Swedish, the 1953 Bigfoot cocktail table is by Paul Frank, and the wall is clad in reclaimed farmhouse boards.
For the designer, the project was well outside his comfort zone. “I’m used to using luxurious fabrics like silk, velvets, and linens,” he says. “For me, it’s all about the mix and the texture. My houses are very layered.” He laughs as he explains that the client wouldn’t allow him to cover the windows. “For her, a feminine fabric is leather.”
In the library, the family’s dachshund, Spartacus, rests on one of a pair of armchairs from Obsolete covered in Ralph Lauren Home plaids; the oak table is from Lucca & Co., the early-20th-century leather armchair is English, the bookshelves and ladder are from Style de Vie, the Poul Henningsen artichoke lamp is from the 1960s, and the ceiling is clad in metal siding from Texas barns.
Instead, the construction materials create their own kind of texture and layering. The corrugated metal that makes up most of the ceilings was carefully placed — by virtue of a graph drawn up by the designer — so that the rusted pieces would not be grouped together.
Most of the floors are polished concrete. Then there was the cache of treasures the clients had stored in units in Europe and L.A.: “There were beautiful things that had been inherited or collected,” Marks says. “I started putting everything together in a way that wasn’t messy or contrived.”
In the guest bath, a chair is upholstered in the California state flag, the sink and fittings are by Waterworks, the custom wallcovering is by Nathalie Lété, and the door is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Studio Green.
Several of the decorative objects he discovered in storage now reside on the contemporary shelves of the library, where, Marks observes, they look fresh and new. It was also important to him that the room not look overly “decorated”.
In the living room of a house in Los Angeles designed by Jeffrey Alan Marks, the custom chesterfield sectional is upholstered in an Ashbury Hides leather, a pair of circa-1960 French lounge chairs has cushions covered in a Donghia fabric, the zebra-print cocktail table is a custom design, and the floor is polished concrete.
To that end, he surrounded a big center table with chairs that are “different and sort of wonky” and hung an iconic artichoke pendant light by Poul Henningsen above. “I wanted it to look as though this house had evolved over a hundred years,” he says. “Since I couldn’t layer in a lot of fabrics, I used a variety of furniture that didn’t match.”
To keep the house from being too severe, Marks says, he felt it important to give the interiors a modicum of “playfulness.” On one of the porches, there’s a pair of furry hide-topped French stools; on another, two gnomes double as side tables.
On a covered porch, the vintage Arne Norell leather love seats and the ironwood block tables are from JF Chen, the wall sculpture is a wartime gas mask for horses, and the walls are painted in Farrow & Ball’s Down Pipe.
“The gnomes were among the few things we took from their old house,” he says. “She had a whole collection of them. I wasn’t totally happy about it at first, but in the end, I realized they were needed.” Likewise, the string lights in several of the outdoor sitting areas are permanent fixtures. “I wanted it to feel a little like a farm picnic,” says the designer. Elements of elegance abound as well.
In the master bedroom, the giltwood settee is Italian, the light fixture made from vintage airplane trusses is from Get Back Inc., the Swedish rug is from Lief, and the flooring is walnut.
In the master bedroom, for example, Marks hung a wall of artworks from the couple’s collection above a decidedly feminine Italian giltwood settee.
The vanity in the master bath is a custom design, the sink fittings and floor tiles are by Waterworks, the walls are sheathed in marble, and the jewelry box is from the 1880s.
In the master bath, the carriage lights flanking the mirror and the 19th-century jewelry box “give the space some civility,” he says. “You can tell these people lived in Europe by what they collected.”
In a daughter’s room, the Italian shell bed came from the owners’ former house in Europe, the mirrored side table is from JF Chen, and the chandelier was found on 1stdibs.
In the end, the client got the rock-and-roll farmhouse she desired — an idyllic, bucolic home that feels completely unexpected within its urban surroundings. Still, she is grateful that her designer didn’t let her get too carried away.
The master bedroom’s 19th-century rocking chair and table are English.
“Jeffrey calmed us down and steered us away from getting too austere,” she says. “He brought a feeling of comfortable luxury to the architecture, which is masculine and relatively simple in structure.”
The stable houses up to a dozen horses and is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Pitch Black, with reclaimed-barnwood shutters.
And while the project represented a departure for Marks, the results, he says, “are incredibly serene and rejuvenating, with lush picking gardens overlooking the horse stables. I still can’t believe we’re in the middle of Los Angeles.”
This story was originally published in the June 2017 issue of ELLE DECOR.