Photography by Kort Havens
7th July 2023
We must thank designer and author Kyle Marshall for this month's Knock Knock. He contacted me earlier in the year to suggest his friend, founder of Womxn in Windows, Zehra Ahmed's art deco LA apartment, as a possible Knock Knock. He sent a few recce shots. Instantly I was excited. It is unlike anything we have had on Tat.
Zehra Ahmed is a designer, curator and cultural producer. She is the founder of Womxn in Windows - a platform for sharing the perspective of women on culture, identity and society through video art, film, music and text. Zehra started her architecture career in New York, working on large-scale hospitality projects in America and Asia. She later moved to Los Angeles to work with The Haas Brothers. Her work lives between art and design, often related to her culinary and aesthetic interests. These have led her to create an acclaimed fig cake that has been featured in, among other outlets, a Gucci video.
Zehra's husband, Douglas Fenton, is an architect and digital artist. His creative practice lives between the digital and the physical worlds, and he works with Ingrao Inc. on comprehensive residential design projects across the globe. He has also been sought to help other designers, including Mark Grattan, The Haas Brothers, L’Objet and Tortuga, visualize and bring their ideas to life through video and still imagery.
There is no surprise that these two have created such an exciting apartment and the fact that it was intended to be a stopgap, well, I have been in my new place for two years, and it doesn't have a patch on this place.
We were a year into the pandemic and had been searching for a new place for about as long. We had hoped to move into a house with some outdoor space. Douglas loves a garden, plants and dirt. We searched and searched a few times we got close, but it never quite worked out. Our friend then told us about a two-story apartment with a roof terrace not far from our work studio, and we thought, why not. We saw, we said yes and decided it would be a temporary move until we found the house we wanted. We would furnish the apartment quickly and efficiently and continue our search for the right house. How hard could it be to find a house? Little did we know.
We fooled ourselves in more ways than one. Neither of us are quick off-the-shelf furnishers here. And so it started - planning and searching for the right pieces for the various spaces. We also realized that the lead time for new furniture was over six months due to the pandemic. As architects and designers, we took that as a sign to custom-make everything! Quicker, less expensive, and we thought, why not support our local manufacturing industry?
Our first stop was the marble yard, where we selected pink marble for our dining table. When it was finished, it felt like a miracle. Something that fitted our space perfectly and was made and installed for us within two weeks. However, finding chairs for this table took two more months. I scoured every site and searched every vintage store, only to find something at the Pasadena Antique Market—a set of six modern, high-back iron chairs. We had them re-upholstered to match our couch. The whole setup looked like Beetlejuice! The wall finish and the view from the dining area were not the most pleasant, so instead of refinishing the walls (we didn't want to touch the surfaces - in case we left!), we hung some lace curtains all around. Soft and billowy in contrast to the marble and super high back metal chairs. Side note, the chairs are super comfortable. One would have never thought them to be.
Our living area was oddly sized, and I aimed to get as much seating in it as possible and feel like a giant hug. I wanted space for people to stretch out, for our friends to hang out, and for there to be space for lots of people. I love people. We decided to design a modular couch (in case we moved soon) that would give the illusion of a conversation pit. We drew things up, and when we finally got to the couch maker, we had thought everything would be white (Douglas likes calm spaces), but then I saw a red brick fabric and convinced Douglas it was the right choice. Douglas and I came to a compromise, the living area could be bold and cosy (more me), and the upstairs bedrooms would be more calm and zen (more him).
Our living space also has this curved wall which had to be worked with, and our final couch fit the walls like a glove - like it was built into them. It took eight weeks, and we couldn't have been happier. All those 6-8 month lead times were not for us. The brick red couch needed a rug, and to be fair, there is only one colour that works with brick red, and that is brick red. So I went on my next hunt to find a matching carpet that could be cut to size to fit in with the couch and the curved wall. Have you ever tried matching a mohair swatch to a rug swatch? It is not easy!! I have finally mastered the art of matching such specific colours with just tiny swatches of each. And so here we were on our way to designing our very temporary space in the most permanent way possible. All the time, looking at other properties and thinking we may move, we would deal with our furniture choices then. It was like we were swingers in a relationship but testing out all our other options.
Once we had made some of these bigger moves, we went on to find the smaller pieces. A pendant for above the dining table was finally found online in Palermo, bless the Italians who packed it well enough to be sent via FedEx and not shatter. The side tables in our living room came from West Elm's "designer" collection (I had to get three, which was not easy when only one was in stock, so I bought the floor samples), and our custom floor-to-ceiling bookcase came from a manufacturer in the Los Angeles area. Plants were being bought and taken to the roof terrace as though we were here to stay forever. Bedroom rugs were found at Nordic Knots and Wayfair and side tables came from CB2. Our temporary apartment was now fully outfitted and permanent with art, furniture, lights, plants and an outdoor dining table. Parties were thrown, meals served, conversations had, naps taken and many memories made. Two years in, and we are finally moving to that house we have been searching for, for now, what feels like a lifetime. Everything is going with us.