Reinventing Space for Simple Living
Actors Corbin Bernsen and Amanda Pays reflect on their projects in their first book, Open House: Reinventing Space for Simple Living
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Actors Corbin Bernsen and Amanda Pays have accomplished some serious feats together. They’ve been married for almost 30 years and raised four sons. They’ve also renovated and sold nearly 25 homes, most of them in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, where they live.
Amidst a market that is red hot for gigantic, new homes, Amanda has a keen appreciation for spotting and preserving diamonds in the rough. Here she shares her top 10 design tips, which are reflected in the couple’s first book, Open House: Reinventing Space for Simple Living.
- Uncover Gems
There was a house in Toluca Lake that was sitting on the market for months and months. It was just horrible with ugly brick and hideous pillars. But when I walked inside, I immediately looked at it and thought, I can work with the brick by painting it but we need to take all these pillars down. It was built in the 1940s and had all of the original carpet, mirrors and glass. When we pulled everything out, great floors and high ceilings were revealed. Then with the power of paint we were able to transform it into a beautiful house with whitewashed brick—giving it a real colonial feel.
- Preserve Character
Corbin and I have always been drawn to old homes. We’ve never built a new house and instead always try and savor the spirit of an original structure. We aim to keep any unique details, whether it’s the hardware, drawers, doors or windows. If it’s a place from the 1940s with very simple strip floors, we don’t take the old floors out. Instead we fill in any trouble spots with new wood pieces and stain them to match. It’s been a great way to give old homes a new life and it’s become one of our signatures.
- Keep It Simple
I think my style in recent years reflects a French, Nordic, Scandinavian vibe with greys, whites and wood tones. I achieve this by sanding down and grey color-washing the floors and then using white paint for the walls, ceilings and wood-work. I also add texture by using reclaimed wood in places like around the front door or on a kitchen island. I find that if you have a backdrop of neutral color, you can add so much to that with your furniture, art and collectibles. Buyers can come in and absolutely see how they could live in it with their things.
- Create a Kitchen Hub
I love opening up kitchens to outdoor space. Just walking into a house and having that big open space is so inviting. I’ve been turning living rooms or other large rooms into the kitchen in order to make it the hub of the house. The other rooms in your house definitely don’t have to be as big.
- Add Unique Elements
Most of the people who have bought our homes are in the arts. If you’re trying to get buyers in the entertainment industry or those who are artistic, you need to add unique features to a home even though you’re flipping it. People don’t necessarily want to walk down the road and see the same home with different color hardware. Any type of unique feature will get you more offers. I always try to integrate a reclaimed feature into our homes. We included an old barn door to separate a living room from a kitchen on a couple of the houses. It adds character and texture.
- Scour Second-Hand Markets
Corbin and I always find something fabulous at flea markets. You need to have your colors and your style in mind so you know exactly what you’re looking for and how it’s going to look in a room with furniture. By the time you get to the swap meet, you’re at a point of layering accessories. I like the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, All Good Things in downtown LA and Big Daddy’s Antiques in Venice. Corbin and I also collect things when we’re traveling. We collect antique hardware and hooks to add to a home. I pick up linens that I can make into cushion covers or simple paneled curtains.
- Consider Concrete
Concrete is a natural material that looks fantastic for indoor flooring. It’s also really durable for dogs and children, it can get wet, and it feels great to walk on with bare feet. I think it also brings together all design styles from contemporary to rustic farmhouse and even French country.
You should decide on only two or three types of floor materials and keep the palette the same. I would paint a wood floor the same color as the concrete. If you’re going to carpet the bedrooms I would go with a natural material like jute but then add a bit more of taupe in the concrete rather than grey.
- Perfect the Paint
There are only a few paint tones that you can really bank on for the interior and it’s one of the hardest things to get right. Even with a grey palette, you have to be very careful because they can become way too blue. What I do is pick three or four natural earth tones throughout the entire house. I tend to stick with simple colors and not get too busy. I use the same color on the kitchen cabinets, in the bathroom and other places so you’re tying the entire interior together.
- Bring the Outdoors In
If you can walk into a home and see greenery, and have a great outdoor meeting and eating space—it’s a winner—especially here in California with its beautiful warm, balmy environment. We always do the garden of the homes we work on and use drought- tolerant plants, like succulents, giving it a more Mediterranean-type vibe. If you live where the sun shines, you need to have an outdoor eating and cooking area. Even just a basic barbecue from Home Depot is great. You can really achieve great style and feel really good about what you’re doing, on a budget. There’s no need to spend a lot of money.
- Welcome the Worn
People have to get over the idea that a house has to be pristine. Most people don’t know how to live in their homes and that’s the problem. So when you go into a home you should get a sense of the people living there as opposed to, “don’t touch this or that.” It’s a whole lifestyle philosophy. Choosing fabrics like linen or cotton are great because they age well. The more worn in, the more beautiful.
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