The do-it-yourself rental

The do-it-yourself rental

Loebe is a 35-year-old photographer, singer, actress, classic car enthusiast and table tennis player who once dressed as a woodland nymph for a photograph on an Iron Maiden album, who spent three months last year on a schooner with 11 strangers bringing food and medical aid to Haiti and who drives a 1978 International Harvester Scout.

For the last two years, she has rented a studio apartment at the Villa Carlotta, a building on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood built in the late 1920s to house the staff of the Chateau Elysee, a luxury apartment building across the street that is now home to the Church of Scientology. Or so the story goes. George Cukor and Edward G Robinson lived at the Villa Carlotta. Louella Parsons wrote her column from her apartment there, and was married in its lobby.

In addition to these histories, the Villa Carlotta is notable for its arts-inflected tenant body, its low rents (Loebe’s is $925, utilities included) and the fact that tenants can customize their spaces any way they want. A good thing, because when Loebe took possession, her apartment, she said: “was a shambles, holes everywhere, including the ceiling, and gross taupe walls with brown trim. Brown ceiling. And, oh God, the bathroom! It was every colour of the rainbow, with rust all over the floor.”

Aggressive decorating spree

She practised a muscular, aggressive decorating, ripping out the built-ins in the bathroom, covering a strangely placed window over the rotting bathtub with drywall and tiling the whole thing herself in black subway tiles.

She framed an old family mirror in one-by-fours and hung it on a cabinet she had built herself over the bathroom sink. She also built out the galley kitchen, making the countertop from a piece of granite she found in the free section of Craigslist.

The lights over the dining area are four kliegs from the 1940s bought for about $250 each, which she mounted herself and lacquered in Man O’ War Marine Spar Varnish.“It’s a boat lacquer,” she explained. “I Man O’War’ed the inside of all the kitchen cabinets and drawers, too.” Her bed is a convertible one that she made by hand; it is half of a wooden stage she uses for photography and is covered with a foam mattress she can roll up when she’s working. (The other half of the stage she uses as a sofa.)

The silk mosquito net came from the “free” table in the lobby of the Villa Carlotta, where residents leave old paperbacks and the like. (She also found her coffeepot there.)  The bed curtains are two lengths of white Dupioni silk hung from a frame she made from autopoles, extendable metal poles that suction to the ceiling, along with super clamps and a length of bamboo.

Under her grandmother’s Kimball grand piano is a glossy tree stump she found on a golf course, hauled home and covered with polyurethane.  Loebe’s grandest gesture was with paint. She has a habit, she said, of covering everything she owns (including sofas and lamps) in white exterior paint, a practice she followed in prior apartments as well.

Here, she mixed it up a bit. She painted the cabinets, trim and doors with glossy black Behr porch and floor paint. The floors and the walls she covered in white semigloss Speed-Cote, an exterior paint.

Most of the painting she did herself, one section at a time. She gave up on the ceiling, and a neighbour took on the job, though she asked him to leave the beams as is, painted in their original – though flaking – gold-and-green diamond pattern. “God bless that paint,” she said. “It’s gorgeous, like Louis Vuitton.”