Growing up in the Houston suburbs, the designer Garrett Hunter would take architectural tours while on vacation with his parents, artists Rhonda and David Hunter. The trips left a deep impression, inspiring Garrett to pursue a degree in interior architecture at the University of Houston before going on to work for local designer and furniture dealer Pam Kuhl-Linscomb. He launched his eponymous studio in 2009, working across interiors, architecture, furniture, lighting, and product design for private clients including art collectors, tech titans, and the odd celebrity. And, now, Mom and Dad.
When Garrett decamped from Houston for Los Angeles in 2020, his parents followed suit two years later, happily downsizing to a three-bedroom house abutting Runyon Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. Rhonda, now the director of operations for her son’s studio, found the property with the help of an architecturally focused real estate agent. “It felt familiar, albeit with a distinct Los Angeles vibe,” she says. “And—perhaps most important—it was perfectly situated to take equal advantage of nature and city views. It has a nestlike feeling, being up in the trees.”
Garrett and his team were given full creative latitude, provided the design stayed “casual” and sidestepped stereotypical interpretations of modernism. The goal was to respect the property’s history while avoiding a formulaic or prescribed look. “We didn’t want to take it too seriously,” he says. “When people choose to embrace midcentury purism, it can read a little stale and uncomfortable.”
Designed in the 1960s by architect Josef Van der Kar, the home retains much of its midcentury charm. Working within the original floor plan, the former primary bedroom, situated immediately off the entrance and featuring the most expansive views, was converted into the living room. The travertine and exposed-brick fireplaces are original, as are the wood-paneled walls and beams in the living room. “We didn’t move walls, so our focus was really to enhance the existing architecture,” Garrett says. “It was an exercise in decoration.”
The small galley kitchen teems with unusual color and texture combinations, a patchwork approach that pays homage to the Philip Johnson–designed de Menil House, built in 1950 in Houston, with interiors outfitted by couturier Charles James. Irreverent accents like the custom hanging lantern, painted by California artist Jeffrey Cheung, and an anachronistic ketchup-colored sofa in the dining room keep things cool. “While my parents are interested in being comfortable, they’re also charmed by whimsy,” Garrett says.
The living room was updated with wall-to-wall jute carpet tiles in a nod to archival Julius Shulman photographs, while the kitchen, den, and hallways were taken from white to Van Dyke Brown, a muted Sherwin-Williams hue that Van der Kar’s mentor, acclaimed architect Rudolph Schindler, often used to draw residents’ attention to their home’s natural surroundings. To that end, the warm interior tones pull in natural light from the jalousie and floor-to-ceiling windows, which look out onto the balcony and a garden landscaped by David himself, not to mention the sweeping views of central Los Angeles below. “We expressed the architecture while really rewarding the view,” Garrett says. And with just four miles separating the designer from his parents, that’s a reward the whole family can reap.
This story originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE