NYC Transplant Lara Hogan's Topanga Canyon Home Is a Rustic Chic Getaway in LA
Welcome to Mama Cribs, an FM Journal series where we shine a light on the gorgeous homes inhabited by inspiring mothers.
Photos: Ryan Eng
Six years ago, Lara Bandler Hogan moved from New York City to Los Angeles to launch her public relations firm The Co-Op. At the time, Hogan probably never imagined she’d abandon New York’s concrete jungle for the rolling hills and slower pace of life afforded to dwellers in Los Angeles’ storied Topanga Canyon. Nestled in the canyon of the Santa Monica Mountains, Topanga, meaning ‘a place above’, is a perfect hippie chic enclave enveloped by nature, perched aloft Malibu’s miraculous sparkling coastline.
In the roaring '20s, the close-knit Topanga community became a respite for Hollywood’s elite; in the '60s, it was the source of inspiration and often home to many musicians including Neil Young, Jim Morrison, and Emmylou Harris. Today, Topanga still holds onto the magic of its renaissance years — notably the infusion of music, art, and enlightenment. The community is a far cry from the densely populated life of New York and even West Hollywood, where Lara’s agency has planted its roots. It’s also the best place for Hogan, a Fashion Mamas LA member, to raise a family.
On a quiet weekday afternoon, we took a drive up Pacific Coast Highway and wound through the canyon until we reached a modern midcentury structure. We were greeted by Lara, her husband Chad, and their 1-year old son Zion. The family welcomed us into their home where we discussed the splendor of Topanga, parenthood, design tricks (hint: "cluster not clutter"), and how a move to Los Angeles became a serendipitous labor of love along with sparking a new business venture.
Where do you live and what initially attracted you to the area and your home?
We live in Topanga Canyon, nestled into the Santa Monica mountains. Chad and I are both NYC transplants who lived in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn — the hub of all NYC craziness. After about 13 years there, we both had our moments when we knew it was time to leave. Our love for NYC will never wane but living that lifestyle takes its toll on you. Chad is an avid outdoorsman and wanted to be amongst nature. As for me, well honestly, I just couldn’t handle carrying my groceries on the subway in the rain on a hot, humid, stinky, summer for one more day. The schlep was getting to me and I knew I wanted an easier, quieter lifestyle for my mid-30s and on. Chad ended up moving to LA for me and into my West Hollywood rental with me until we figured out where we wanted to live. Chad had bought his condo in Williamsburg in early 2000 before anyone but artists and Hasidic Jews lived there. The guy has a crazy knack for seeing neighborhood potential, but he does it out of love for the neighborhood, not for real estate value.
When we started chatting about where to buy our first home together, he mentioned an obsession with this area called Topanga Canyon that he had read an article about in SPIN magazine years ago. He said all of the coolest musicians jammed and lived there, and it was in the mountains. I kind of rolled my eyes, but agreed to go for a hike in the state park and to take a look one Sunday. Well, that ended up being our day. On our way up the street to the state park we passed a home with a “For Sale By Owner – Open House” sign posted out front. We looked at each other, pulled over, and walked in — from the moment we stepped in the house we knew this was our future home.
The house was dusty and old and didn’t make much sense layout-wise and didn’t have many of the things we needed, but it did have a few elements that made us forget all about those “must-haves" and we made an offer the next day. We knew that we could renovate this home to be exactly what we wanted it to be and the special aspects ([like] the huge handmade wood burning fireplace in the middle of the living room, the floor-to-ceiling glass midcentury vibe windows facing the most epic canyon view) were so unique and we had to have this house. The process took forever, but six months later we moved into our first home together and began an epic journey to co-create our vision.
Living in Topanga is very different. As much as it is very "LA," it also is tucked away from the hustle and bustle. How does this vibe permeate your home?
Chad, Zion and I feel so privileged to live in such a beautiful place amongst so much nature. The peacefulness of our neighborhood is an exact translation of how we feel at this point in our lives. We revel in the fact that we wake up and go outside and cross the street and hike in the most beautiful state park every day. Most mornings, it is just us hiking amongst bunnies, deer, snakes, squirrels, woodpeckers, horses, coyotes, owls and even a bobcat the other day. Chad works from home and I work part-time from home and part-time from my office in West Hollywood. That is one nasty commute but the second I pull into the canyon, all of my worries melt away and I really feel like I’m on vacation — it is hard to feel that hustle and bustle stress from our vantage point. I love having family and friends over because they all feel that same way when they visit. For example, Zion’s godmother, Becca lives in NYC and travels to LA every few weeks. she always makes it a point to come to “Chandler Farms” because she says she can’t get that relaxed feel anywhere else.
How and why did you make the decision to take on a renovation?
Chad is a former creative director who is now an actual interior designer. So as you can imagine, he simply was not comfortable or excited to buy someone else’s vision or design. He insisted on creating our own footprint and space, and that to be happy in our home, he had to design it for us. I fought him a bit on this, especially when I would walk into these beautiful finished homes and get so excited about the space. Ultimately, I knew he was right (that’s hard for me to admit), and that this was our destiny to do.
What inspired the aesthetic for your new home design?
The actual existing style and aesthetic of the home as it was served 100% as our inspiration for our renovation. We wanted the home to feel true to a 1948 cabin with a late '60s post-and-beam addition. That didn’t mean that we were actually creating midcentury designs in the renovation but it meant that we were very conscious about keeping our style consistent with the existing look and feel of the structure. We call our look “rustic chic” and that sounds so corny, but I think it actually really defines the style of our home.
Is there a color palette you’ve chosen for your home and if so, how does it work in each room?
Our color palette is actually super neutral. We have so much going on in the home with our décor that I always like a neutral, usually white palette to allow everything to pop and stand out on its own. Chad loves all things dark and masculine and black. I love all things light and feminine and white so as you can imagine, we had a ton of push and pull (slash meltdown arguments in the middle of the tile store) but ultimately I think the final result is the perfect amalgam of both of us and there does happen to be a lot of literal black and white.
How did you and your husband source most of the items for your home?
Since we got married later in life, we came together with a collection of things we loved from our own homes (pre-each other) so we started by picking and choosing the things we liked from each others' stuff. Then from there [we] designed our own sofa and spent way too many Sundays at our favorite flea market at the Rose Bowl scoring 6 a.m. gems before the masses arrive.
What kinds of items do you love to surround yourself with?
I don’t think Chad or I would have been able to call this out before we created our home together, but we seem to have a thing for quirky animals. Everywhere you turn in our home, you will be face-to-face with some sort of strange animal. Chad loves squirrels and I love owls and from there, the menagerie grew. We have some epic taxidermy found on the floor of an amazing thrift store in the middle of Georgia where our girlfriend has a country house and then we have a random shelf filled with plastic dinosaur figurines because I just like dinosaurs.
Everything is very functional and strategic but ultimately we are not afraid to be ourselves and to do what we like even if nobody else would do that. Our hand towels in our bathroom are embroidered “PEE and POO” because why not use the free initial monogram option when getting new towels and we just so aren’t the type to put our own initials on a towel. We love Outkast, so when we designed the tile shower in our guest cabin, Chad came up with the idea to write “So fresh and so clean” out of the actual tile design. Not to toot our own horn, but we have caught that exact wall in a few of our friends' renovated homes since!
How have you created "workspace" with in your home?
Because Chad works from home full-time on our design agency, Chandler Farms (named after our home) and I work from home half of the week and after hours, we needed a separate office so we turned one of the bedrooms into a joint office. We designed a huge four-foot-by-eight-foot double-sided desk with tool boxes as cabinets and a built in library for design resource materials. It is so so so important for us to have that space to disappear to and really focus on work. Zion knows that when that door is closed, mama and papa are working. It will get harder to work from home as he gets older I’m sure but we are committed to respecting that space as our work and creative space. And, we really feed off of each other’s creativity so it is really nice to get each other’s perspectives and ideas even when we aren’t working on a project together.
Speaking of workspace, what is Chandler Farms?
Chandler Farms is a company Chad and I co-created right after renovating the house. Chad had an ‘a-ha moment’ throughout our renovation. He had just finished designing the $10 million Vitaminwater Manhattan offices as part of his job as creative director and realized throughout that experience that interior design was the natural evolution of his career. But, he wasn’t sure how or when to do this. We then renovated our home and that gave us both the confidence to realize that this was our calling and that Chad needed to start now. We created an LLC, a website and the rest is history. Since starting the company in 2014, he has done ten major projects from high profile offices to apartment complexes to recording studios and it is all from word of mouth.
What advice would you give to a family who is looking to renovate?
DON’T DO IT! Just kidding. Do it. Take the risk. If you are creative, good at decision making, able to manage a budget and timeline, and have the time to dedicate to prioritizing the process every day, make it happen. I find that almost on a daily basis I express in someway how grateful I am for some little decision we made to do some small thing in the house that actually affects my daily life. For example, putting a sliding barn door on the family room. Before we renovated, this was a closed off room but we opened it up to be a part of the kitchen and overall space. Last minute, Chad decided that we should build a homemade sliding barn door so that if we wanted to have guests crash on the couch or have some darkness to watch a movie, we could. Since this was all done pre-Zion, we weren’t even thinking about kids in our design (not smart) — but that barn door has saved our asses! Zion walks everywhere and explores everything and keeping him contained in one space while we are playing has made such a difference. In essence, he has a real playroom now.
One the other hand, a renovation is such a personal project. It is truly about personal preferences and choices. So, when two strong-minded people with creative tendencies decide to do this together, there can be a lot of butting heads. Make a commitment to each other before you start that you are doing this for the love of your family and that you will support each other and give in to each other and take turns “winning.” Chad and I struggled at the beginning and then decided to assign each other roles and spaces so we knew we had control over specific things. I cared tremendously about our master suite and Chad cared way more about the kitchen and office, so we each became project managers of those spaces.
What is your favorite place in your home, and which room do you spend the most time in?
There is no greater feeling to me than going up to my bedroom at the end of a long day and sitting on our bed and meditating, reading, breathing or just thinking. The floor-to-ceiling windows facing the canyon give the most beautiful, peaceful and inspiring view and no matter what time of the day, you can always see an epic bird show with all sorts of birds flying around, interacting, and feeding their babes. The stars start to come out, the moon and the sun are often both out, and it is just such a simple reminder of how beautiful life is.
Right now we honestly spend the majority of our time in the family room because that is where Zion’s toys are and we have a big cozy rug so as he is a new walker, accidents are a lot softer on that rug than the hard wood of the rest of the house. The beauty of the design of this room is that we have a huge cut out in the kitchen connecting the rooms so when Chad is cooking dinner ('cause I am the luckiest wifey) we are still connected and able to feel like we are together.
Can you tell us more about your favorite item in your home?
I cherish a large printed photograph that my dad took when he was the Ambassador to Cyprus of the UN buffer zone, the peaceful zone in between formerly war-torn north and south Cyprus (Greek vs. Turkish). My dad wrote a little note on the photo and signed it many years ago. I found an old antique mirror frame at the Melrose Flea Market that I repainted and used to frame this photo. My dad passed away this year after suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s Disease for nine years. He was truly my design inspiration in so many ways. My dad used to spend all day “tschocky’izing” areas of the house which meant creating little clusters of “stuff” that worked well together. Dad was the one who used to jokingly tell me to “cluster don’t clutter” and I swear that is one of my design mantras that I think about so often when putting together areas and spaces in my house and office.
How have you translated your aesthetic into your child’s room, and what do you love most about the space?
From the moment it was confirmed that we were having a baby boy, I began obsessing over the nursery. I was so excited to turn our guest room into my dream nursery. I immediately knew the style and vibe I wanted. Once I had Chad’s blessing and then his creative input, we went to town putting it together. I think people were surprised to see that by the time I was 7 months pregnant, the nursery was in perfect condition ready for a baby. You could blame it on nesting or just an OCD excited mama who got to create her dream space for her lil babe.
We really wanted Zion’s room to not feel babyish and to be able to grow with him and evolve into a great boy’s room. We chose grey, black and white colors with natural wood accents here and there. The theme is nature and animals (of course). I have been so happy that the nursery didn’t just look special but is actually a super highly functioning nursery and really works well for Zion as a 1-year-old.
I love that the art in his room is the focal part of the design and that Zion loves looking at and talking about the different animals on his wall. His wood IBEX head is “Izzy” and he says good morning and goodnight to Izzy everyday.
What is one of your favorite items in the nursery and playroom and why?
We have some beautiful vintage Zion National Park posters in his room that were gifts from Chad and our brother Patrick. Zion gets his name from the park, which is the first trip Chad and I took together when we were dating. I love that he gets to look at those everyday to remind him of why he has such a powerful name.
What are some of favorite finds or toys in Zion's room?
I love Babyletto [and] that they have affordable nursery furniture that doesn’t skimp on design. One of our favorite toys that Zion has just become obsessed with as he has gotten a little older is a gift from our dear friends Kate and Josie. The brand is called Pacific Kid, they make developmental toys and they gave us a Zion Adventure soft book which zips open and is a landscape of Zion National Park with Velcro animals, cactus, rocks, and a park ranger to move things around and set up as you like. What a great gift and a perfect toy for the plane and travel as it is light and portable!
I have [also] had an obsession with baby moccasins since way beforeI had kids and collected them when traveling to New Mexico to gift to friends who had babies. I have moccasins in every style and color, including the moccasins that I wore as a baby!
Lastly, do you have any family rituals that you've created in your home?
Our morning hikes are certainly our biggest ritual. Chad uses our Osprey baby pack every single day to take Zion hiking and swears by it. Zion loves to be up high looking down on the hike and able to see and explore from dad’s perspective. Zion and Chad also spend a lot of time outside watering the garden which makes Z so happy.
For me, I love our mornings in our bed. Unfortunately baby man (the nickname my brother gave Zion when he was born) wakes up at 5 a.m., so we go and get him and bring him up to our bed for milk and snuggles and the three of us have quality time watching the birds and hanging out. It’s a pretty special way to start the day.
Thank you Lara, Chad and Zion for inviting us into your home! To get the ultimate Topanga experience, book a stay at Chandler Farms, Lara and Chad’s Topanga Guest Cabin.
Nara Walker is a Fashion Mamas LA member, producer and writer.