Going For The Gothic
Medieval Ambiance In A Los Angeles English Cottage
When Los Angeles designer Norm Wogan bought his first home, just outside Hancock Park, “I really wanted to make it perfect,” he says. The 2200 square-foot house, built in 1926, had not been redone in decades, and had the worn gray wall-to-wall carpeting and “ugly, ugly” wall coverings to prove it. “Nobody had done anything to it in the thirty years they lived there,” the designer recalls of his first view of the house, “so you can imagine how frightening it was. But I immediately saw the bones of the house, and my mind became like a motion picture. I started envisioning from room to room what it could be like.”
Wogan, a Houston, Texas native who has lived and worked in Los Angeles for fifteen years, loves English décor, and his aim was to make his home “into a really cozy cottage.” For contrast, he chose gothic accents in lighting and furniture. “To me, having dark against light walls, the starkness of that is a little gothic,” Wogan explains. “But what you see is the architecture of the house instead of a lot of accessories and furniture. I always believe that the house should stand on its own, and that furniture and everything else are gifts to the house.”
A large arch links the living room to the dining room, which also features red upholstered chairs and an iron chandelier. Delicate wall scones create accents in nearly every room and entryway of the house. The centerpiece of the dining room is a table designed by Wogan, made from a bronze clockface which is nearly six feet in diameter, big enough to seat ten people for dinner. This kind of table has now become something of a Wogan signature—he claims that nearly every project he works on ends up with some kind of clockface table.
On nights when Wogan doesn’t entertain, he heads for the library which, admittedly, is his favorite room in the house. There, he has a casual dinner and settles down in front of the television, all under the watchful gaze of his great-great-great grandfather, whose oil portrait hands above the fireplace. “The fabrics are all very durable,” he says, pointing out that they’ll stand up to the occasional spill. “You really can do anything to it. Besides,” he adds, “everything is antique and distressed anyway, so if it gets hit or something, it’s a lot easier to seal with than contemporary furniture, which is so clean and sleek.”
Before Wogan linked the library with the living room through another open arch, it has been one of the house’s three bedrooms. Another transformation was seen in the master bedroom. As in the living room, the ceiling here was raised and wood beams were installed. “When you raise the ceilings, you get the illusions that the house is a lot larger,” Wogan explains. But it’s not entirely an illusion: the added height in this room gave Wogan the opportunity to build a triangular alcove at the top of one wall which he uses as a bookcase. “I try to create every little nook and space into something visual.”
The massive mahogany headboard is an old front door from an estate that Wogan had cut down and refinished. “As soon as I saw it, I knew it would make a great headboard,” he recalls. The master bedroom also features newly installed windows from an old English church on either side of the bed and a 19th century German armoire.
The master bedroom opens out into the backyard, where Wogan continues the English theme in the garden. He designed a pool constructed in French limestone which was deliberately raised from the ground so that his two dogs, Sadie and Luke, couldn’t fall in. At the opposite end of the garden is what used to be the garage, which Wogan converted into an office. From there he looks out and sees only the garden, and on a spring day, with everything in bloom, might well think he is, indeed, in England—until he spots the palm trees nestled within the shrubbery. “The palms were there when I moved in,” Wogan points out. “I didn’t mind that little bit of weirdness.”
There is nothing weird abut the overall sense of well being that Wogan sought when designing his own, first home. “What I wanted to create for myself is what I try to create for my clients: the feeling when you walk in that it’s not just a beautiful home, but there’s something that you can’t even really describe, an energy that just feels right. It’s very important to me to come home at the end of the day to a home that is not only ‘done’ but that is nurturing to me. I want to come home and relax and feel like I don’t have to go anywhere else.”