Designer and shop owner Lizabeth K. McGraw stumbles upon a hidden historic cottage and builds herself an urban farmhouse—and a chicken coop.
It is said that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference. Five years ago, driving home from the furniture studio in Downtown Los Angeles where the goods for her shop Tumbleweed & Dandelion are made, Lizabeth K. McGraw took a turn down an unfamiliar street in an effort to ditch the infamous LA traffic. She happened upon a row of historic cottages and was immediately struck by their hidden-gem charm. As if happenstance hadn’t already intervened enough, she found to her delight a for-sale sign in front of one of the small cottages. As she drove past and merged back onto the main road home, she was already formulating her sales pitch to her boyfriend, Johnny, at home.
Soon enough, the couple was returning to the site, located just 10 minutes from her retail storefront on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice and just seven miles from the beach. “We went to go see the house without knowing how much or how big it was,” Lizabeth says. What they found was a true batten-board cottage that predated the Golden Age of Hollywood. The property was a fixer upper in the true sense of the phrase; however, it boasted a large guesthouse and expansive multilevel garden. Lizzie and Johnny liked enough of what they saw to take the leap.
They initialized a remodel to make a few major changes to the 800-square-foot abode. This included moving a wall in the living room back a few feet to make the adjacent den smaller and the front living room bigger. “We added bead board everywhere, added a new kitchen, refurbished the bathroom and added a new deck and a pergola in the backyard,” Lizabeth says. “Then we redid basically everything that you don’t see that a house needs, such as plumbing and electrical.”
The small home suites the couple’s lifestyle to a tee. The décor is a casual mix of vintage and cottage style that Lizabeth calls urban farmhouse. “It’s really an urban mix of country elements,” she says. This translates to easy-care slipcovers, paint-chipped furniture, painted floorcloths (a signature Lizabeth design element) and casual dog-friendly environs where she and Johnny can relax and put their feet up.
As an interior designer with a penchant for French antiques, it isn’t always easy to keep the accessories to a minimum, but the limited space keeps Lizabeth’s design goals in perspective. “I really love contemporary pieces, but I am a little bit of a Francophile, and I love to bring back small tchotchkes from my buying trips to France. However, when you live in a small house, whatever you bring in has to be utilitarian.”
What does make the home easy to live with—maybe even be spoiled by—is the large half-acre yard and the guesthouse where the couple does most of their entertaining and daily living. The guesthouse was just a shell of a structure when they moved in, but they have transformed it into an open-plan living room/kitchen complete with its own bathroom. It’s the perfect place for hosting guests or throwing parties and finding extra room for Lizabeth to decorate. “This is where I [can let loose] by throwing a few pillows and throws on the big sofas,” she says. The large deck they built is another site for summer gatherings with friends; it’s also where the couple often enjoys their dinner every night.
And then there’s the chicken coop, an unlikely farmhouse touch in an area that’s very much a part of LA metro. “One of the girls who works at my shop came back from a side project as an art director for a small film where they used chickens. She came into work the next day with a few chicks and then again the next day we took them home and started raising chickens.” Johnny built a structure based on designs Lizabeth drew up and now the coop is a unique whimsical part of the outdoor space that visitors love.
Between the chickens, the dogs and the relaxed setting Lizabeth has created in their unique home, the historic cottage urban farmhouse has become a true escape. The couple is content to know the dwelling they rescued and rebuilt is a special place.
By Jickie Torres
Photography by Mark Tanner
Styled by Jacqueline deMontravel