Interior of living room (after) Photograph © Larisa Miller
Style maven, Larisa Miller does everything with flair. She can plant a tree and turn it into a work of art by some simple alchemy of placement and juxtaposition. As an actress she has worked in Los Angeles for over fifteen years. It’s her first love but a tough mistress in the slow periods. A woman of enormous energy, she needed to find something to occupy her during those slow times.
A lucky conversation with a real estate neighbor turned into a healthy business buying homes, renovating and redecorating them and then selling them. In other words, flipping. The difference? The homes that Miller works on are mini works of art. I caught up with her recently and asked her to share some of her tips and tricks of the trade with our readers here at Kouboo.com.
Can you describe what you do?
I have a partner and we buy homes – we usually look for older homes, pre-1940 and we rehab them. We concentrate on add-on space as well as restoring details that we can bring back to their original condition. And then we sell them.
How did you get started?
I bought a house with my mom in Portland and we fixed that up. Then my husband and I did our own home. I realized it was something that I really wanted to do. I invited a neighbor who is a real estate agent over – and we formed a partnership over the dinner table. We spent a year looking for our first house, solidifying our partnership and learning as we went. We visited and then talked about what we would do with it. Our first house we made very few changes. Every house we do more and more to the point where now we actually add square footage.
Exterior (before) Photograph © Larisa Miller
Do you have contractors that you work with all the time?
We have subs – we act as our own general contractors. Over the past four years we have solidified an amazing team anchored by a pair of brothers. We pretty much have everybody in place at this point.
What are the challenges of working for yourselves, rather than for a client?
Well, obviously the money. We have to come up with a lot of money. That is the biggest challenge: the financial risk that we take on. On the other hand, it is very nice to make our own decisions without other voices coming in. We have more flexibility than if we were to work with clients. We brainstorm and then do what we want. It moves a lot faster. We talk about it and then simply do it.
Exterior (after)Photograph © Larisa Miller
How long does it take?
The last house we did took four months. Some can take up to six months. We work on one at a time. We only have enough crew that we trust to put on one house. We have friends that flip that are getting into horrible trouble because they are working with people they don’t know. It can be very stressful but mostly I have nights that I can sleep.
Do you have any tips or tricks of the trade for making a space gorgeous?
My partner and I tend to use a lot of color, in particular with paint because that is something that can really warm up a space and is an easy fix if it doesn’t turn out how you want.
It’s important to put money into the details like the hardware on the windows and on the doors. If you are cutting costs that’s not the right place because those are the details that show.
Windows are a big one. To get the right window, I will do everything. For example, we went into a house with new vinyl windows and could not afford to replace them all. So we replaced the ones in the front of the house – that brought back the look of an original craftsman.
Wallpaper is another unusual detail that makes a big difference. In the house that we just did we put in wallpaper into two rooms and in the half bath. We hung the wallpaper on one wall of the half bath and added a utility sink. The paper and the sink turned the room into something special. Sometimes it is as simple as making a choice that no one else would think of.
In every room we try to have one thing that you notice. Like the fireplace in the living room or adding a chandelier in the dining room.
Choose one thing in each room that you notice and then the rest can remain simple.
Interior half bath (after) Photograph © Larisa Miller
What are the details that help to make a house feel like a home?
We listen to what people are saying during our open houses and that has taught us a lot. In general, people talk about the lighting. Not necessarily in the whole house though because you don’t want it to feel like a showroom. We will do a lot of shopping at salvage yards – because those are things that you don’t see everywhere.
Using color also makes a difference.
We try to blend in our homes. We add or restore the traditional aspects as well as adding modern amenities.
For example many of us have memories of feeling like we could sit on a sofa that feels cozy – so my partner and I will use lots of pillows. Our homes feel like someone lives there – and to get that feeling is all about the details.
Pay attention to the hardware, the paint, the lighting and try to add something special that makes it feel like someone put a lot of thought into it.
Interior kitchen (before) Photograph © Larisa Miller
Interior kitchen (after) Photograph © Larisa Miller
Anything other tips that you would like to share with our readers?
Don’t be afraid to have fun. Get in there and take some risk. Those things that don’t work out can be changed. I notice that when people don’t take risks it doesn’t feel special.
Written by Catherine Holliss
Interior Design Blog Writer, Kouboo.com, LLC
Director of Interior Design, Sander Architects LLC.
Photographs © Catherine Holliss unless otherwise noted.
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