Los Angeles Aerie
Perched high in the Hollywood Hills, transplants Dana Goodyear and Billy Lehman’s lofty nest mixes whimsy with fresh, clean design.
If houses embody life stages—the childhood home; the bachelor pad; the midlife remodel—then Billy Lehman and Dana Goodyear’s light-filled residence hovering above the Chateau Marmont in the Hollywood Hills is most definitely the honeymoon suite. Everything about the couple’s first shared living space has the blush of new romance and the excitement of joining respective passions and interests. It’s a showcase for his art collection and her treasured heirlooms; the furniture is both bold and delicate; and even the landscaping—baby fruit trees and all—feels like a couple in the process of planting roots.
Lehman, a real estate developer who also designed the house, calls it “a mission of love.” A self-proclaimed “dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker,” he moved to Los Angeles after selling his record company to Warner Bros. shortly before September 11th, 2001. “I felt great from the minute I got here,” he says. “L.A. is an amazing place to remake yourself.” He bought a mid-century house with good bones, checked into the Beverly Hilton and began renovations.
There was only one thing holding him back from taking a full emotional leap into life on the West Coast: He had only months earlier met Goodyear, a poet and staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. “But I wasn’t going to be of use to anyone in New York,” he says. Instead, he would spend the next two and a half years coaxing Goodyear into joining him in California, dedicating himself during her absence to the renovation of what would become their beloved dwelling.
Lehman added a second story, a balcony, a rear deck and a swimming pool suspended over the hillside by 30-foot-deep concrete caissons. And, after Goodyear moved to Los Angeles at the beginning of 2005, he purchased the adjacent 1,400-square-foot house down the hill—mainly to be used as a writing studio for Goodyear, but also to contain an office for himself and a guest room. A wide redwood staircase (painted Lehman’s own mix of deep grey) now joins the two properties, which are close enough to keep a big party cozy—they held their wedding reception here in May, 2007—yet distant enough to give guests privacy, and, of course, creative solitude for Goodyear.
After entering the property through an inconspicuous doorway of painted sheet metal set into a ficus hedge, the house greets visitors with both openness and irreverence. To the right, a concrete fireplace off the master bedroom warms a cushioned sitting area; straight ahead, a clear glass front door exposes the entryway and beyond; and to the left, Birdman, a cast bronze sculpture by L.A.-based artist Liz Craft, gives you the finger. (“It’s our subversive gesture,” laughs Goodyear.)
Inside the main house, the whimsy continues with restraint and elegance. The living room, down four steps from the foyer and under a sloped beamed roof, conveys coziness with a white wool shag rug and folksy pillows with bird images by one of Goodyear’s favorite designers, John Robshaw. A custom sofa, long enough for a row of martini-holding revelers or a couple taking afternoon naps, faces the action indoors, while two Hans Wegner “Papa Bear” chairs recovered in leather and corduroy point to the sweeping views of the Los Angeles skyline. Lehman also redid the fireplace in terrazzo—the hearty and costly stuff of institutional flooring—and glammed it up by stirring handfuls of chipped mirror into the mix.
While stained walnut floors run throughout the house, the same luminous terrazzo floods the former garage, which Lehman converted into the dining room. “I got the idea from Neutra,” says Lehman, who has visited several of the architect’s houses. “He did this with garages several times. In one, he had only a flowing brown curtain for a garage door.” Lehman set a row of windows into his door instead, which can be opened—along with the door itself—on warm nights. And the thick hedge provides privacy from the street.
A perfect metaphor for the house (and the two sensibilities of its inhabitants) lies in the master bedroom. A painting by one of Lehman’s favorite artists, Takashi Murakami, hangs over the bed, facing the stuffed head of an impala across the room that Goodyear shot herself. “My father was a hunter, and it was my first kill,” she says. “He died six months after that hunting trip, so there is a lot of emotion in that for me.” The modern meets the antique; the new acquisition meets the sentimental totem. “Billy’s all about torching the past and starting fresh,” says Dana. “I moved around a lot when I was little, so I hold onto my possessions. They really ground me.”
At the back of the house and to the right of the living room, Lehman and Goodyear converted a second guest room to a library, “which has become our favorite room in the house,” says Lehman. A childhood portrait of Goodyear’s father hangs in a wall of bookshelves, which also line the entryway—additions prompted by Goodyear. “I like to decorate with books,” she says. “I really needed a jolt out of the mid-century aesthetic,” says Lehman. “After you’ve done it a couple times, all that furniture seems to fit together like Garanimals.”
Down the hillside, citrus trees, artichokes, herbs, an olive tree and other edible vegetation surround the office bungalow. A carpet of pillowy sedge grass fills in the rest. “We had the same philosophy when we planted our garden that we have about Thanksgiving,” says Lehman. “We only wanted things that wanted to be here.”
Goodyear herself surely wants to be here now, and living in this house has undoubtedly sold her on a West Coast existence. “I wanted Dana to have the ultimate office,” says Lehman, who designed her desk himself. She chose the wallpaper behind the bookshelves and searched Los Angeles showrooms before she found the exact antique needlepoint rug in the sitting area—in just the shade of pink she wanted. “I’ll never go back to New York,” she says, smiling. “Unless Billy does. But I don’t see that happening.”
By Sally Schultheiss.
Photographed by Lisa Romerein.