Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

A Kindred Spirit in LA- Nickey Kehoe

May 19th, 2021
Los Angeles

I’ve never really understood Los Angeles. It’s one of those sprawling cities where I get very confused every time I visit. Where is the center? Where is the hole in the center? Where do the real people live? Does anyone ever walk here? Where are the cute neighborhoods, historic neighborhoods with houses from a bygone area? Where would I belong?

Stretch, who lived in Los Angeles right out of college, explains:

There’s a great east west divide. Beverley Hills is east of the 405, Santa Monica is west. It can take two hours to get from Pasadena to Santa Monica with traffic, 45 minutes without.”

I’m still confused.

I was just about to give up on LA, prepared to stay disoriented and mildly depressed every time I visit, when I was asked to write a story for the June issue of  British House & Garden about LA designer Todd Nickey who moved from NYC to LA twenty years ago.

Todd and his business partner in crime Amy Kehoe, another NY export, joined together in 2004 to form design duo Nickey Kehoe. When I flipped through the pages of their book Golden Light, The Interior Design of Nickey Kehoe, I was entranced.

This was the LA I could relate to, the LA I could move into. Fixed up old houses with original details – floors, beams, bannisters, ceilings, fireplaces all left intact, old tiles salvaged, English wallpaper added, a lot of books and pictures and an eclectic mix of objects, just the right amount of color, deliberate but unfussy, not perfect, a respect for what could and should be saved but never musty or sad.

I can almost smell the orange blossoms wafting in though the French doors or feel the warmth from the California light streaming in through the open leaded windows. An English bulldog is hanging out on the patio. This is my LA.

As hotelier Liz Lambert writes in the forward when describing the Nickey Kehoe aesthetic:

An attitude of warmth and casual sophistication. Unforced. It says: repair what exists. It is a love for the natural…. The irreverence of a wall painted deep banana to the natural ease and elegance of an overgrown garden wall. Here’s to making people feel grounded and good and free.”

So, I have a plan.  Next time I visit LA, I’m going straight, do not pass go, to their shop on Beverley Blvd and then Todd (who doesn’t know this yet, but he was super pleasant during the interview) is going to show me around our LA, all the houses and neighborhoods in that dreamy book. We’ll end the day at my favorite house of all, the one I got to write about, Todd and his husband Greg Holcomb’s Pasadena hacienda, originally built in 1927.

We’re all drinking margaritas in the courtyard with that oversized terracotta pineapple they lugged home from Mexico. Oh, and Anne Hardy who made this story happen, who makes most of my design stories happen, she’s there too.

The sun is setting a lavender glow. The air is warm and fragrant. It’s February. California dreams.

May 2021