Space

Double Vision

In the hills of Los Angeles, two designers inhabit a modern bohemia.

I immediately felt like this was my project.

EVERY HOUSE IS A HAUNTED HOUSE if you wait long enough. And Casa Larissa, a shaggy apartment building tucked into the overgrown hills of Silver Lake, certainly has its fair share of spirits walking the halls.

Jared Frank, for example, was first beckoned to the building in 2009 by the fresco artist Lance Gaylord Klemm. A recent transplant to Los Angeles from Brooklyn, Frank was driving around the winding foothills on the hunt for vacancy signs, but instead found one advertising an estate sale. Intrigued, he took the bait, only to fatefully enter a dark and enchanting jewel box of a home.

“The apartment was just covered in murals and baroque, antique furniture. It was pretty cluttered,” Frank remembers. Klemm, its owner, had fallen ill and moved back in with his family, and his sister was dispatched to sell off his earthly possessions. But the walls and ceilings and floors were the real marvel, according to Frank, as they were covered in trompe l’oeil paintings that recalled musicals of Hollywood’s Golden Age; every nook and cranny, it seemed, contained a decadent or exotic artistic flourish.

That very day Frank met with the landlord — a “breezy, fabulous man” — to view another available unit in the building. “Afterward he told me, ‘That’s not the apartment for you — Lance’s is your apartment.’” The day it became available, Frank and his then-fiancée moved in. They made only the necessary upgrades, leaving the entirety of Klemm’s work on the walls and floors. “I remember thinking, If I don't do this, this will vanish. I immediately felt like this was my project.”

Frank turned his home into a salon of sorts, hosting musical performances, readings, and bacchanals for the local creative intelligentsia, restoring the space to its former glory. “There was a period — in the ’80s or ’90s — when a lot of the units at Casa Larissa were very public facing; they would host drag shows, and one was allegedly a bondage dungeon,” he says. (It’s also rumored that James Dean once lived there, that the Rolling Stones kept mistresses there, and that Rock Hudson hid boy toys there as well.) “They’re residences but they also open themselves up to the public in ways that most residences don’t. The concerts were my way of continuing that tradition.” It was during one of these salons that his friend Kim Swift first came to the building and, like Frank before her, was drawn into its orbit.

As Frank puts it, “The building has a gravitational pull, for sure.” Swift was immediately charmed, and when an apartment became available the following year, she took it, even though she already had a lease in LA’s Venice neighborhood at the time. Two days after moving in, Swift met her boyfriend, Ethan Brosowsky. In a bit of kismet that’s difficult to write off as mere coincidence, Brosowsky’s best friend, the actor and artist Taylor Negron, had lived in Swift’s exact apartment years earlier. In fact, it was there that he passed away from cancer. Years before they met, Brosowsky was a regular not just at Casa Larissa, but in Swift’s future home. A wrinkle in time has one imagining Brosowsky hanging out with Negron in what would later be his girlfriend’s apartment, and then eventually his.

Frank and Klemm. Swift, Brosowsky, and Negron. Casa Larissa is a palimpsest — memories and stories are written and rewritten there daily. In some cases its history is literally painted onto its walls and then guided into the present by its current occupants. But in other, subtler ways, remembrances of the past are always hanging in the air.

“A lot of people ask if Taylor haunts the apartment,” says Swift, who works as an experiential designer. “And all I can say is that I could only hope that he would. But he’s part of the story of the space. I do feel him. He’s here in a way.”

Take, for example, the kitchen, which she painted in quaint florals and festive fruit prints during the quarantine. The pattern looks like it could come from a farmhouse scene in a children’s book, but it’s actually lifted from a plate previously owned by Negron that Brosowsky acquired after his death. The plate lives in Negron’s old apartment once again, tucked away in a drawer, and now adorning the walls and ceiling.

To take things even further, Swift’s home has taken inspiration from Frank’s home. The two units — mirror image layouts that sit across the hall from each other — are complementary bookends, kind of like the pair of porcelain pugs Frank has displayed in his home. So when Swift painted her foyer, it was an homage to Klemm’s murals. Interpreted through her own aesthetic sensibility, she chose an inky jungle tableau filled with swirling birds and explosions of flora. Turn off the lights and the room is illuminated by neon glow-in-the-dark paints that give it a spectral incandescence.


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In Swift’s living room, sketch-like Grecian-style goddess paintings regally look on from the walls. They were done by her friend, artist Jason Koharik, after she posed for photos that he projected onto the walls. Brosowsky, who’s a cheesemonger, is represented by a plate of grapes and cheese. In her dining room, squiggly paint adorns the walls, which mirrors a nearby velvet settee. It’s a furniture piece designed by Frank, but after a spill caused a stain, Swift took a bleach pen to it and, voila! Squiggles it was. The dining room, Brosowsky and Swift decided, looks best in candlelight, so a lumpy clay candelabra chandelier hangs above the oversized stone table, which they think of as a giant cheese board.

“There’s a conversation happening between the two spaces,” says Swift of her apartment and Frank’s. “When I moved in here, I knew I had to filter certain aspects of Jared’s place into here.” Swift says that she’ll even let herself into Frank’s apartment when he’s not there and just sit there, waiting for inspiration to strike. “I’ll just go and study it. I’ll look at how Lance painted something and I’m constantly discovering ways to live in the space.”

And while there is definitely a back-and-forth between their homes, the differences are also worth noting. Swift’s apartment has an airy, eclectic, and decidedly feminine feel, whereas Frank’s space has a more enigmatic charge, like rummaging through a magic shop (think: the macabre grins of papier mâché skulls in one corner or the family photo with haunted vibes above the faux fireplace).

“One thing that I populate the apartment with a lot are objects that feel like they have a degree of mystery about them,” Frank says. “They have a narrative that we can’t fully envision or know. I like all these layers of meaning.” For that reason, he often decorates using items from fraternal organizations, like the Odd Fellows, or ephemera that feels like it’s been lifted from a defunct carnival — mannequin dummies, gilded mirrors, light-up letters, and a bagatelle game he had rewired to serve as a whimsical light fixture.

Frank recalls one week when a friend stopped by and called his apartment creepy; the same week, another friend called it cute. That ineffable dichotomy, the inability to be neatly surmised as one thing or another, pleases him greatly. “They’re both right. And, you know, a sense of humor and a sense of mystery are not mutually exclusive,” he says. “I love that people come in and ask me about different things.”

Similarly, Swift’s house is an unspooling story that begs visitors to ask about this detail or that objet d’art. Due to her job, much of her furniture and decor comes from friends or craftspeople she works with. As such, everything feels considered but, more importantly, personal — a riposte to the interchangeability of Instagram home decorating. Much of it has just made its way to the apartment, like the French film poster for “Auntie Mame” that Brosowsky schlepped around Europe. Everything — a ceramic foot planter, the expressive portraits in the bathroom — implores you to look, look again, and ask questions. Some things even beg visitors to perform, like the small stage that leads to Swift’s balcony or the upright piano. “I believe every house should have a piano,” she says. “You never know what it’ll bring out from your party guests.”

Casa Larissa is a reminder that some buildings, if you look closely enough, have their own temperaments, that over the years they’ve picked up the energy of their occupants to become living entities. “It’s this very classic LA, Spanish-style building that reminds me of David Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive,’” says Frank of the complex’s Didion-esque allure. “It has, almost, a day persona and a night persona, a consciousness and a subconsciousness. It’s a vibe.”

Both apartments boast balconies — Frank’s looks down across a commercial strip and onto another hillside vista, while Swift’s is a plant-strewn lanai that faces the street. During the height of quarantine, she and Brosowsky ate dinner there frequently. At dusk, their view moves from an amber glow to a crepuscular chiaroscuro; a bougainvillea bush radiates eye-catching pink amid the cooler evening shadows. People walk by with their dogs and it can be easy to forget, for a moment, that you’re just a short stroll from the seedy thrum of Sunset Boulevard. “I’ve learned to appreciate being on the street because people will sort of call up to me and I’ll pop my head out,” Swift says. “We’ve gotten to know our neighbors.”

And at night, if you hear the ghosts roaming Casa Larissa’s halls, please know that, for the current occupants, they are more than welcome to stay as long as they like.

Where to Eat and Explore in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake Neighborhood

Designers Kim Swift and Jared Frank share their favorites.

  • Akbar

    A great dance spot with a bohemian spirit and the occasional comedy show.

  • The Dresden

    A restaurant and lounge that opened in 1954, the Dresden is famed for old-world white tablecloth service and live music experiences.

  • Tiki-Ti

    An iconic bar for tropical drinks since 1961.

  • Kismet

    A neighborhood spot combining seasonal California produce with Mediterranean-inspired flavors.

  • Cookbook

    A local green grocer specializing in all things responsibly grown and sourced.

  • Mohawk General Store

    A carefully curated store for designer apparel — shoes, swimwear, and lifestyle accessories.

  • United Bread & Pastry

    Family-owned and baking scrumptious Filipino treats since 1981. The mom not only takes care of all the beautiful potted plants that adorn the hidden driveway/courtyard in front of the storefront, but also stocks the refrigerator she placed out front for anyone in need of food to just take.

  • El Ruso in Echo Park

    Look no further for great tacos.

  • L&E Oyster Bar

    For a cocktail and a bit of a scene.

  • Psychic Wines

    A lovely wine shop with a great selection and wonderful staff.

  • Pazzo Gelato

    Absolutely delicious handmade gelato with endless flavors.

  • Zebulon

    A fun nighttime establishment with concerts, a restaurant, screenings, and other delights.

  • Eszett

    An Austrian-inspired light-bites bar with an inspired menu.

  • Botanica

    An obsessively farmers’ market–centric menu is offered in the restaurant as well as in market form.

  • Pine and Crane

    A fast-casual Taiwanese restaurant using fresh, simple ingredients in a modern setting.

  • Marta gallery

    A gallery that embraces an intersection of disciplines, giving space for artists to experiment with the utility (or lack thereof) of design.

  • New High Mart

    A local store stocking Japanese items, housewares, and a well-curated clothing collection.

  • Needle

    A great little spot for Hong Kong–style foods that are carefully crafted by the sweetest husband/wife team.

  • La Sorted’s

    Best pizza in town.

  • Melody

    A neighborhood staple, this wine bar is in a bungalow and hosts a regular rotation of pop-ups.

  • Bar Keeper

    They stock great spirits like our favorite small-batch mezcal, Morro Mezcal.

  • Akbar

    A great dance spot with a bohemian spirit and the occasional comedy show.

  • Zebulon

    A fun nighttime establishment with concerts, a restaurant, screenings, and other delights.

  • The Dresden

    A restaurant and lounge that opened in 1954, the Dresden is famed for old-world white tablecloth service and live music experiences.

  • Eszett

    An Austrian-inspired light-bites bar with an inspired menu.

  • Tiki-Ti

    An iconic bar for tropical drinks since 1961.

  • Botanica

    An obsessively farmers’ market–centric menu is offered in the restaurant as well as in market form.

  • Kismet

    A neighborhood spot combining seasonal California produce with Mediterranean-inspired flavors.

  • Pine and Crane

    A fast-casual Taiwanese restaurant using fresh, simple ingredients in a modern setting.

  • Cookbook

    A local green grocer specializing in all things responsibly grown and sourced.

  • Marta gallery

    A gallery that embraces an intersection of disciplines, giving space for artists to experiment with the utility (or lack thereof) of design.

  • Mohawk General Store

    A carefully curated store for designer apparel — shoes, swimwear, and lifestyle accessories.

  • New High Mart

    A local store stocking Japanese items, housewares, and a well-curated clothing collection.

  • United Bread & Pastry

    Family-owned and baking scrumptious Filipino treats since 1981. The mom not only takes care of all the beautiful potted plants that adorn the hidden driveway/courtyard in front of the storefront, but also stocks the refrigerator she placed out front for anyone in need of food to just take.

  • Needle

    A great little spot for Hong Kong–style foods that are carefully crafted by the sweetest husband/wife team.

  • El Ruso in Echo Park

    Look no further for great tacos.

  • La Sorted’s

    Best pizza in town.

  • L&E Oyster Bar

    For a cocktail and a bit of a scene.

  • Melody

    A neighborhood staple, this wine bar is in a bungalow and hosts a regular rotation of pop-ups.

  • Psychic Wines

    A lovely wine shop with a great selection and wonderful staff.

  • Bar Keeper

    They stock great spirits like our favorite small-batch mezcal, Morro Mezcal.

  • Pazzo Gelato

    Absolutely delicious handmade gelato with endless flavors.

Our Contributors

Max Berlinger Writer

Max Berlinger is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for GQ, the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg Pursuits, Men’s Health, and many other publications. He covers the intersection of fashion, lifestyle, culture, and technology.

Yoshihiro Makino Photographer

Yoshihiro Makino, born and raised in Tokyo, is an architectural and interior photographer based in Los Angeles. Makino is drawn to cultural co-influences in design seen between Japan and other countries. His work takes him around the world capturing spaces and portraits for a vast array of editorial, private, and commercial clients.

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