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Saturday, Feb 27, 2021

How One Designer Lovingly Preserved a 1920s L.A. Mansion

How One Designer Lovingly Preserved a 1920s L.A. Mansion

Cliff Fong updated a Mediterranean-style home in Hancock Park, setting the stage for gutsy art and iconic modernist furniture.

Style, according to Cliff Fong, is about possessing a singular sensibility. Having worked in fashion in a former life, the Los Angeles–based interior designer, who operates under the firm name Matt Blacke, takes an approach informed by the personal style of fashion icons: “They’re never head-to-toe in Saint Laurent or Gucci,” he says. “It’s about the mix.”

In Fong’s latest project, a 1927 Mediterranean-style mansion in L.A.’s historic Hancock Park neighborhood, his fashion-forward philosophy resounds through the home’s various eras of art and design. In the dining room, where the original oak paneling is almost a century old, the dining table is a 21st-century work by Rick Owens, embodying the high-low ethos by combining petrified wood and plywood. The delicately wrought ceiling lamp is 1950s Serge Mouille, whose distinct graphic language abounds in the house’s many vintage Stilnovo lamps and sconces of his design. Fong compares such pieces to a favorite handbag or accessory-“things you can always count on to make your look work.”



Sonya Roth, Fong’s client and a managing director of Christie’s auction house, lives here with her three children: 10-year-old Anabel, 7-year-old Colette, and 3-year-old Henry. She and her late husband, Josh Roth, bought the house together in 2017, charmed by the grand archways that carved clear views from one side of the house to the other. They were in awe of many of the original architectural flourishes, including the curves of the grand spiral staircase, but they did not love the outdated finishes or the “10 million sconces,” Sonya recalls. “It was very heavy-handed.”



The couple had the dark hardwood floors replaced with neutral shades of reclaimed French marble, and the living room’s ornate plaster fireplace replaced with one in 17th-century French limestone. They chose both their materials and their furniture to match the historical weight and authenticity of their art, a collection they began together in the mid-2000s as they became fixtures on the L.A. art scene.



Sonya was an active patron of the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the nonprofit LAXART, and before Josh passed away in 2018, he had bridged the worlds of the entertainment industry and fine art by launching a visual-artist representation division and exhibition space for United Talent Agency. The couple gravitated as much toward the artists themselves as they did to their works. “Our collection is mostly our friends’ art,” she says.



To complement the pieces in their collection, Fong sourced vintage editions of venerated midcentury designs by icons of the period. The living room, for example, features black leather sofas by Børge Mogensen and Kaare Klint beside an enormous canvas by Stanley Whitney. Even so, when Sonya entertains, her guests-a mix of Hollywood power players and artists-inevitably shuffle through a trio of archways into the media room, beckoned by a plush sectional in vibrant aubergine.



It is one of the more colorful elements in a house that hews to white walls and soft gray wool rugs-neutrals that accommodate, rather than compete with, newly acquired works of art. “Rugs to me are like your favorite jeans,” Fong explains. “It doesn’t matter what you put on top of them if you get the right one.”

Sonya says she never worries about how an artwork might clash with the decor. She does, however, have to answer to her children’s budding connoisseurship. “They certainly have opinions,” she says with a laugh. “They see things through different eyes. I’ve noticed that as I get older-I’m in my 40s now-my kids help to keep my eye a little fresh.”

Tour This Glamorous, Art-Filled L.A. Mansion




Despite the extensive renovation, much of the architecture that the couple initially fell in love with remains. Visitors enter past white columns adorned with baroque reliefs, leading into a double-height atrium that glows in the neon lettering of artist Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon. The illuminated sculpture hangs below the original lace-like millwork with an archway on each side, offering a peek into the sun-drenched interiors beyond.

“It’s not easy to make a beautiful old house comfortable for contemporary living,” Fong says, commending the couple for preserving the essence of the mansion’s history while bringing the interiors up to date. Sonya, on the other hand, describes a much more intuitive process: “I just wanted to hang on to everything original that was good.”


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