More often than not, when the crew makes a discovery during demolition, the news isn’t good. Faulty wiring, asbestos, and dry rot are just a few less-than-ideal surprises. However, rehabilitation of this 1930s Georgian in Long Beach, California, unearthed a happy surprise: A Prohibition-style room tucked behind a pivoting bookcase.
“The speakeasy dates back to Prohibition times,” designer Mindy Laven says. “There are even original liquor labels from the 1930s on the walls, along with handwritten notes scribed from past guests.”
Everyone was on board with preserving the unexpected find, even if it meant rethinking the layout. “The space where the kitchen was slated to be located conflicted with the speakeasy, so we revised the floorplan,” Laven explains. Then they dressed it up, adding cheeky wallpaper (Monkeys! Vodka!) and antique mirrored tile on the ceiling for more drama.
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As for the rest of the decor, Laven honored the original style and period of the home, mixing in modern touches for style and function. The jumping-off point? The black and white checkerboard floor in the gracious entry. “It feels so signature to the house,” the designer says.
We recreated the wall molding in the formal living room to match the original molding on the fireplace wall. The black of the buffet and the glossy pot give the space a modern edge, while the estate sale portraits feel like they could be images of former residents. We foraged the greenery in the pot on the property, something I always encourage. Use what you have!
The living room had original moldings on the fireplace wall, which we repeated on the other walls in the room. We wanted to honor the space by leaving the design elements that had survived over time. A fresh coat of white paint makes everything look new. The room’s main event, the grand piano, feels simultaneously modern and vintage. “I can imagine parties in this room, both past, and present, with the sound of music wafting through the house,” Laven says.
Lounge chair and rug: Jenni Kayne.
This kitchen is ready for modern living but thanks to the custom plaster hood and polished marble countertops, still nods to the period of the house.
The antique French trestle table is the perfect foil for the contemporary wishbone chairs. “We love this juxtaposition!” Laven says. A large vintage wood bowl turns a casual arrangement of fresh flowers into a statement that doesn’t try too hard.
We crafted a custom bookcase to be a secret door to the speakeasy at the original entrance to the prohibition room. The wallpaper, which pictures monkeys drinking vodka martinis and smoking cigars, is fitting! Vintage mirrored ceiling tiles reflect the custom neon sign, and the sconces over the custom server were repurposed from elsewhere in the home. The team left the back portion of the room intact.
Wallpaper: Astek “Drunk Monkeys.”
Before: The team discovered an original prohibition room during demolition. “It was perfectly preserved, we simply cleaned it up and styled it,” Laven says. “We even left the original liquor labels and handwritten notes on the wall; they truly add to the history of the home.”
The light-filled dining room is perfect for dinner parties and family gatherings. Although the chandelier with an antique brass finish has a vintage feel, it is a new purchase. However, the alabaster lamp, antique candlesticks, and classic portrait enhance the room’s historical provenance. The sideboard is an antique dresser.
Table: Jenni Kayne.
A four-poster bed makes a distinguished statement in the primary bedroom while preserving the light and airy atmosphere, and cozy boucle chairs are a comforting touch.
Lounge chairs: Jenni Kayne.
This charming hall bath got a refresh that included a new layout, gorgeous tumbled marble subway tiles, and a custom vanity. Placing a mirror in front of the window allows maximum function and helps bounce natural light around the space.
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Q & A
House Beautiful: What was the scope of the project?
Mindy Laven: The project was quite extensive. This beautiful period home is approximately 4,000 square feet with five bedrooms and four bathrooms. We completely gutted almost all of it. It was almost as if it was frozen in time
HB: Were there any unique elements worth saving other than the hidden speakeasy?
ML: We retained as much of the original character of the home as possible. In addition to the hidden speakeasy, we refurbished the stair railings, and wall moldings, and where we could, we left the original vent covers, which are quite lovely.
HB: Where did the majority of the budget go?
ML: The majority of the budget went to updating systems—the not-so-fun stuff— and new doors and windows. This house needed everything from new plumbing, electrical, sewer, air conditioning, heating, to the new roof! We spent over $150,000 on the stuff you can’t see before we could even get to the fun stuff. The doors and windows were another $100,000+, but we wanted to do them correctly to maintain the integrity of the house.
HB: And after that?
ML: Beautiful white oak wood flooring throughout, traditional Clarence House wallpaper in the entry, marble counters in the kitchen, and custom-built cabinetry were other big-budget items. The exterior also received its fair share of the budget with new landscaping, a sparkling pool, a new garage, and a custom portico at the front door.
HB: Can you tell us more about the exterior facelift?
ML: The house was originally quite flat at the front. We custom-designed and built a portico to give depth and dimension and to provide shelter at the front door. The brick was red and patinaed at the start. Painting it was a tough decision but one that was well worth it! The creamy white exterior and muddy green shutters feel historical but updated. We refinished the front door and added new hardware; the perfect refresh.
HB: Were you able to save money anywhere?
ML: There were many custom details that we found necessary to add to live up to the provenance of the house. Unfortunately, none of them were particularly budget-friendly.
Design Team: Sennikoff Architects sennikoffarchitects.com (Architect), Mindy Laven (Interior Designer), Alison White Homes (owner/builder), Watson Bros. (builder)