A Modern House Brimming with Custom & Creative Touches

Heather Swallow and Atom Willard are no strangers to exploratory DIY projects — whether they’re reviving vintage pieces (and giving them a totally new spin), building a couch together, or deciding to rip all the upper kitchen cabinets off the walls to see what it looks like while the other is out of town (ahem, Heather). This shared quality in Heather, a furniture reviver/designer, and Atom, a musician, is exactly what makes their Los Angeles, CA home so refreshingly unique.

Married for 18 years, Heather and Atom bought this 1,248-square-foot 1948 house 14 years ago after it passed their wishlist requirements (central air, a garage behind the house, and no upgrades — “be careful what you wish for,” they joke) and the avid thrifters have been updating it bit by bit ever since. The distinctly personal and custom feeling their home evokes is a testament to their willingness to express their creativity to try something new, or master a new skill — and the support they have for each other in just going for it.

“We learned that no matter what, our first idea isn’t going to be the end result,” Heather begins. “We will try things and if we’re not completely happy, we just start over. One time when Atom was on tour, I decided that ‘we’ wanted open shelving in the kitchen. I promptly removed all the upper cabinets, patched and painted the walls so that when he came home we could build the open shelving. Then there was the time I thought ‘we’ would really enjoy a pink and red dining room… that was not the case. You really don’t know until you try. I guess we are always evolving in our design style and choices, and are both openminded and patient enough to let the other give it a go, or to listen when one of us says, ‘So, I was thinking…’.”

The outcome of these creative conquests results in a home that had very little detail when they moved in, now thoughtfully layered with their curated collections and clever upgrades. The single-story post-war house features two bedrooms and one bathroom, and has been heavily influenced by both the vision and handiwork of these two DIY go-getters. “We have done 99.6% of all the work here ourselves,” they tell us. “For better or worse, we will take on anything! From major plumbing to wall relocation, from flooring to the concrete countertops and concrete porch and steps, to the structural steel supporting the overhangs front and back. Countless gallons of paint, hours in the attic re-ducting the HVAC system, installing recessed lighting and the landscape design in the front yard. We naively think we can do it all, and we do, just usually takes twice or three times as long.” They add, jokingly, “Please don’t call the city.”

This unfettered approach to home upgrades has boded well for these two, because inevitably the more projects they try their hands at, or more skills they learn and hone, the more their one-of-a-kind style shines through this home. It’s a quality that we’ve always sought after at Design*Sponge over the years, but something that’s always been hard to find. That free-fall into creativity and DIY ambition, and unwavering confidence in what “home” means to those who live there — and no one else.

Heather shares, “We are avid ‘thrifters’ looking to create a beautiful environment with quality pieces on a budget. Which is totally doable, if you are patient. For me, I’m always looking to create that ‘feeling.’ We want our home to be the best it can be through our eyes! It’s a reflection of our aesthetic and our ability to build what we think is a beautiful environment.” I hope you enjoy this truly special home as much as I did. —Kelli

Image above: The living room. Heather shares, “The day we finished this couch in our garage was really special. It was the first full sized couch I had done and a true collaboration between the two of us; with the legs and walnut sides being hard-sought solutions on how to frame the fabric portions.”

The exterior of the home. They share, “We wanted to offset the hard, straight lines of the house with soft flowing plants and pathways. Of course drought-tolerant was important too, but we found a way to incorporate enough gravel, bark, concrete and steel with the desert indigenous plants to feel right.”

“The yellow flowers of the Desert Museum Palo Verde trees that match the front door were a very happy accident. We enlarged the front porch 80% to try and offset the extra large chimney that once dominated the house. Making the floating steps helps keep it airy and light. We painted our original door five different colors before deciding on the yellow, and then had this door custom made and painted. Doing it all ourselves made it take far too long, but we absolutely love it.”

Upon walking inside, you find yourself in the living room. “There was one arched doorway in this house when we took ownership and we decided to repeat the theme throughout,” Heather and Atom say. “There were also doors in every opening!”

A $2 wooden box found at a garage sale (full of vacuum parts that Heather had to negotiate to not take) now is a beautiful custom piece with upholstery by Heather and steel legs by Atom.

“Right when you come in the front door you’re in our living room. We love that it stays light and airy throughout the day.”

Heather shares, “We love mixing all sorts of eras and elements in the same area. Piece of marble found in the back yard of an estate sale? That’s a coffee table!”

Heather elaborates on some of her thrifting/collecting guidelines she follows while searching: “There are very narrow parameters on what qualifies a martini set as okay for me: NO handle and must have matching stirrer!”

In the living room, the fireplace is yet another facet of the home made custom by Heather and Atom. Heather explains, “Deciding to paint the brick of the fireplace took a while, but once I committed I wished I had done it sooner! We sought out and cut to size the 100-year-old white oak mantel and finally the fireplace looked at home in this room.”

The dining room holds even more personal touches. “Making leather cushions for this thrifted teak rocker was an exercise in perfect proportions. It only took two tries!”

Another angle of the dining room. Heather and Atom explain, “This room was always sort of dark but having the mirrors on the entire wall helps keep it bright. We had the freestanding table bases with no table, so we made this from acrylic and plywood. Ovals are hard.”

A soothing design moment in the dining room. “We’ve been collecting fishing floats [for what feels like] forever, some have seen more use than others, and that makes them each interesting.”

In the dining room, a scaffolding shelf, thrifted painting and pottery combine to showcase more of Heather and Atom’s signature, collected style.


Heather Swallow and Atom Willard are no strangers to exploratory DIY projects — whether they’re reviving vintage pieces (and giving them a totally new spin), building a couch together, Read more