Outside of its beautiful meaning, one of the reasons I chose to use Elysian for the name of this project was because of its connection to Los Angeles — Elysian Valley, Elysian Park — and having lived here all of my life. And when it comes to exploring the city’s architecture and design history, there are few things that excite me more. So when Lisa Cole, a Glassell Park resident, reached out to share her 1920’s Craftsman-style guest house, it sounded like the perfect match.
Nestled on an unassuming street off of San Fernando Road, the home’s façade exudes a sense of rich history that is only enhanced by the renovation Cole completed on the space in January of this year. Inside it’s walls, layers of textiles and found pieces set the scene for a relaxing retreat to unwind and escape in. We sat down with Lisa (and her Labradoodle, Mel) to talk about the story behind this remarkable structure, her design inspiration, and LA’s evolving landscape.
1. You’ve created an oasis in one of Los Angeles’ rapidly growing neighborhoods. What has it been like to see Glassell Park change over your years of living here? What made you choose Glassell Park as the place to plant your roots?
I was living in Silverlake when I met and married my husband, and when we started a family, we were desiring more space and looking to buy our first home. Glassell Park is located just on the other side of the LA River from Silverlake, so it felt familiar enough, yet worlds apart. I didn’t know much about this diverse neighborhood at the time, but really loved how unspoiled and raw Glassell Park felt. We’ve seen plenty of changes happening in the seven years we’ve lived here, but Glassell Park still embodies the authenticity and rich diversity that makes East LA a great place to live.
2. Despite its more industrial bones, you’ve managed to make the Boat House feel intimate and cozy. What’s the story behind this space and what was it used for before you worked your magic?
We loved the 1910 Craftsman home, but when we walked into the backyard and discovered the brick building, we knew this property had to be our home. The structure was built in the 1920’s as a work garage to repair city trucks. There’s a mechanics well in the floor that we converted into storage, and the windmill that originally powered the building is still perched on top of the roof. The previous owners stored their antique book collection inside the building for nearly two decades. Every inch of wall space had shelves for thousands of books. As writer’s, we couldn’t wait to renovate the space into a home office. We set out removing drywall in order to expose the raw brick underneath, but soon discovered some structural surprises. One interior doorway looked like a bank heist bomb gone wrong. Unprepared for the scope of the remodel, the building sat empty until last August. In January 2016, we finished the remodel and dubbed the reborn space the ‘Boat House’ due to its close proximity to the LA River.
“We finished the remodel and dubbed the reborn space the ‘Boat House’ due to its close proximity to the LA River.”
3. The space is half residence, half art gallery with an array of work displayed by artists and friends. Are there any local artists or makers you find yourself drawn to again and again?
LA has so many booming craft and local artisan fairs like Mt. Washington Made, Eastside Handmade, and the better-known Echo Park Craft Fair. Ceramics artist Heather Levine has a studio down the street from us. Recently, I spent a long morning there trying to decide which beautiful lamp to get for the Boat House. I’m obsessed with her wall hangings made from scrap ceramic pieces. For clothing, my friend Pietsie Campbell designs must-have staples like jumpsuits, pants, and tunics. I’m lucky to know Echo Park-based artist Eric Junker who channels his love for life into unique graphics, posters, and bad ass branding. And right up the hill from us is Tracy Wilkinson’s workshop. I’m dying to acquire one of her unique pieces.
4. What is your mantra when it comes to designing a space — where do you find yourself looking to for inspiration?
I love finding things off the beaten path when traveling and at home, and really appreciate materials that have a living quality about them — wood, stone, bone, clay body tiles, concrete. I like how the concrete flooring in the Boat House came back to life after polishing, but still bears discoloration and imperfections. I’m inspired by the Japanese term, “wabi-sabi”, which means the art of finding beauty in the imperfections of life. I try to apply this way of living to my personal life and my evolving design aesthetic. For inspiration, I love finding out-of-the-way artist denizens, like Arcosanti, AZ or Marfa, TX. Exciting design can also be found in boutique hotels worldwide. I enjoy following Grupo Habita and Shelter Social Club. More and more small hotels are partnering with local artists to create everything from art and graphics, to bedding and uniforms.
5. Living in Los Angeles, you can embrace outdoor living pretty much year-round. What are a few of your requirements when it comes to crafting an outdoor space?
Some years ago, I rented an old farm house in Yalikavak, Turkey that had a wonderfully simple but comfortable built-in cement bench on the patio. The bench was the perfect height and width for kicking back and eating meze, reading a book or taking an afternoon nap. I took photos and measured the bench carefully. There’s nothing worse than a bench that’s too narrow to accommodate lounging. Years later, I was able to use these notes for reference when designing the lounge areas outside our home. Other key elements for me are fire and water; I find both really comforting. Last year, we built a pool and installed a beautiful cement fire-pit bowl. The fire-pit area has become a favorite place to hang out year-round.
“I’m inspired by the Japanese term, “wabi-sabi”, which means the art of finding beauty in the imperfections of life.”
6. We love the exposed plumbing you’ve incorporated in the kitchen and bathroom. Do you have a favorite design feature in the home?
I’m pretty happy with how the custom pressed particle board shelves and cabinetry turned out. It’s not a material many people have worked with, so I was unsure about it at first. I also like how the small Japanese tiles look as the kitchen backsplash. I found those on discount in a dusty box at a tile store next door to our local Home Depot. My favorite feature is the original twelve-foot workbench we stripped and repurposed. It now serves as a central focal point in the main room. We were still renovating last November and used it as the buffet for Thanksgiving dinner.
7. The Boat House is a thoughtful mix of vintage and antique finds. Can you share a few of your favorite sources to hunt for home goods?
I like pieces with provenance, but also functionality. My mother passed away recently and I kept several of her mid-century kitchen essentials, including utensils and vintage ceramic mugs that were in our kitchen while I was growing up in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas (the mugs are now in the Boat House kitchen). Whenever I visit Hot Springs, I go hunting for unique items. Last year, I found a treasure trove of vintage Dryden pottery (also on the shelf in the kitchen); sun-bleached deer antlers from a walk in the woods; and quartz crystals while kayaking on Lake Ouachita. In LA, my favorite hunting ground is the monthly Rosebowl Swap Meet. About half of my belongings hail from here. The guys at Casa Victoria on Sunset in Silverlake have a great eye for vintage furniture with reasonable pricing. I’ve also been known to troll Etsy late-night for one-of-a-kind vintage pieces like lamps, teak bowls, and original art.
8. We love the stacks of books you’ve displayed for guests to peruse and dive into. Are there any books you’ve recently read or discovered that have been inspiring?
I recently picked up the coffee table book, Rock the Shack by Gestalten, and ordered two new interesting concept books for the Boat House: Humans of NY: Stories by Brandon Stanton, and PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives by Frank Warren.
9. How do you feel travel plays in to interior design? Do you find that your eye is informed by the places you visit?
Definitely! I’ve been lucky to travel extensively, and lived in Scandinavia for a year. When I travel, I’m always on the lookout for textiles, rugs, and art. I roll an empty duffle bag into my suitcase to bring home any of my findings. Last August on a trip to Tulum, I scored woven mats (now in the Boat House bedroom), amazing dream-catchers, and bended twig lamps. Road trips are my favorite! But don’t ask my husband how he felt about the nine-hour drive home from Point Reyes with smelly, open oyster shells and tumbleweeds found along Highway 5 crammed into the car.
10. Lastly, how can we go about booking a stay at the Boat House?
Airbnb, of course! We’re happy to host, and cold beer awaits guests in the fridge.