Everything in Robrt Pela’s home has a story.
The house is full of collections: art, family heirlooms, and books. But everything has a purpose.
“We use everything,” Pela says. “Nothing is just for show.”
The gallery owner and New Times contributor and his husband, Todd Grossman, moved in to the 1924 California craftsman in Phoenix’s oldest neighborhood, F. Q. Story, about 15 years ago. They immediately ripped out all the contemporary aspects that previous owners has installed.
They wanted to restore the home to the way it was when it was built, and they’ve almost completely succeeded.
Though the décor is more eclectic and not limited to the 1920s, Pela has a steadfast design theory.
“Wherever our eyes fall, we want to see something pleasing.”
Over the years, he says that some have called his décor Bordello Chic with plenty of heavy fabrics, a lot of coverage, and a plate wall. Always.
“I like covering walls,” Pela says. “I like things.”
Taking one step into the green home’s living room, that statement seems obvious. Every corner of the home is full, but nothing feels cluttered. And that’s exactly what Pela and Grossman want.
There’s a rule in Pela’s house to prevent hoarding: “When we buy a new one, we have to get rid of one.”
Unfortunately, that means the large wardrobe in the living room will be moving to a new home soon to make way for an upright grand piano the couple will be given.
There’s another rule in the house: Define a space for a certain item, and once that space is filled, stop buying.
This means the couple is no longer allowed to buy dish ware because the dining room, which is more of a display room for the couple’s 13 sets of vintage dishes, is completely full.
The last addition was the couple’s own wedding china, a set of 1958 Steubenville in plaid. And even adding this was breaking the rule.
But the couple found the set for $40 — a fraction of what the set is worth — in Sedona just after their wedding. As Pela was hesitating, remembering the rule just put in place, his husband was already loading the pieces into a cart.
“We just got married,” Pela remembers Grossman saying. “It’s our wedding china.”
In the kitchen, a corner built-in holds a collection of vintage cookbooks that the couple still rifles through for recipes.
On the top shelf sits a pair of kitten salt and pepper shakers. Before his mother gave the pair to Pela, she wrote down where they came from on a piece of paper. Pela keeps that piece of paper shoved up the bottom of one of the shakers.
“My mother provided narrative,” Pela says, referring to the shakers but also to his own desire to know the origin of each of the mostly vintage items within his home.
But there are still some “holy grails,” Pela says of the items that he has yet to find. One is a vintage bar cart with small wheels rather than the large wheels that seem to be on every cart he finds.
For the time being, he’s settled for a slightly broken, small-wheeled cart he found at Target. But if he hadn’t said anything, you may have asked for the story behind the seemingly vintage bar cart in the house’s breakfast room.
Repeated imagery rules over the master bedroom with mirrors hanging from the walls, shelves displaying vintage alarm clocks Pela has collected over the years, and a display case full of toys from his childhood.
And then there’s the bookshelf full of vintage how-to books with titles like How To Read A Book and How To Be A Swell Guy.
One thing Pela thinks every guest should have when they enter someone’s house is the ability to find people. There are plenty of people to find in his house.
The staircase is lined with portraits, both of people the couple knows and painted by people the couple knows.
There’s one large portrait that anchors the gallery wall of a young woman. Pela has no idea who the woman in this 1920s portrait is, but she looks exactly like his mother when she was younger.
The most recent project was organizing the guest room, which Pela did in October when his husband went out of town.
In addition to hosting guests, it had been the hobby room of the house, but it became difficult to find anything within. Pela added in a long desk that fills a corner, tucked things away in various containers, and repurposed other items like an art deco vase that now holds mismatches crocheting needles.
Now, Grossman still needs to ask where everything is, but Pela has an answer, and it looks nice.
The closet in the guest room holds one of Pela’s favorite collections and one he’s been working on since he was young. Open the door, and you’ll find a small room filled floor to ceiling with records and record players.
But possibly the most impressive room in the house is the upstairs library. It had been used as storage with wall-to-wall carpet, but when Pela first walked through the house, he immediately saw the potential.
The couple ripped out the carpet, exposing the painted hardwood below, had shelves built and installed, and filled the room with just a portion of the couple’s 10,000 books, vintage cameras that Pela’s mom, dad, and grandfather used, and a 1930s dining table that Pela separated to become two desks.
“It’s a lovely place to work,” Pela says.
Just off the library is gorgeous blue bathroom. At first glance, the walls look covered in a paper depicting intricate wood grain in a bold blue. But this design was hand-painted by Pela’s husband.
This bathroom seems to stand out from the rest of the house until Pela explains the story of how much work Grossman put into it. Then it just becomes a continuation of the conversation.
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Correction: This post has been updated from its original version to reflect that the grand piano is being given to Pela and Grossman.