Hollywood ‘fixer’ seeks design help to downsize and fix up a fixer

Before COVID hit, Howard Bragman had two houses and a spouse. Today the celebrity crisis manager, known for cleaning up some of Hollywood’s biggest messes, is single and living large in half the space he once had. (For a sense of what crises he’s dealt with, past clients include Sharon Osbourne, Nick Cannon, Wendy Williams and Chris Brown.)

Going into the pandemic, Bragman occupied a 1,000-square-foot apartment in New York City and a 4,200-square-foot, five-bedroom, five-bath modern farmhouse in Valley Village, a Los Angeles suburb. Once COVID took hold, giving up the apartment made sense since any TV work he did there, he could now do remotely.

As for the California house, once he and his husband parted ways, “the place seemed too big,” said Bragman, 66. “I didn’t want the upkeep. I wanted to live differently and travel more.”

He found a two-story, 2,700-square-foot townhome in nearby Toluca Lake. It needed a total makeover — it hadn’t been updated since it was built in 1977 — but it had what he wanted: two bedrooms, a generous great room, a spacious outdoor terrace for entertaining and room for both an office and a gym. What it didn’t have: room for his extensive art and photography collection and his 5,200-square-feet worth of furniture.

Because a true professional knows when to call for help, the Hollywood fixer called on his long-time friend, Beverly Hills interior designer Christopher Grubb, to help him fix the fixer.

Grubb, who joined our call, met Bragman in the late 1990s and has worked on several of his homes. “We’ve been on quite a design journey,” Grubb said. “This house is 180-degrees different from his last one.”

Bragman, who sold his farmhouse when he bought the townhome, moved into an apartment while he, Grubb and architect Kenneth David Lee of KDL Architects worked on the remodel. Apart from the structure’s clean lines and high ceilings, all that remained were a few walls, the stair railing, a built-in bookcase, an office cabinet and the garage door.

Using a palette of blues (Luna Pier by Dunn Edwards), greys, creams and taupes, they installed new cabinetry, flooring, fixtures and built-ins, including a library wall in the primary bedroom.

Then they grappled with the art and furniture. Grubb said the defining questions were, “What do you love and what will fit?” They started with the big art pieces that would stay — an oil pastel by American artist Rockwell Kent and an iconic portrait by Annie Leibovitz, among them — and decorated around them.

“Art has a funny way of telling you where it belongs,” said Bragman, who estimates he sold or gifted 35 pieces of significant art. “After I picked out what I wanted to keep, Christopher created a stunning gallery wall.”

I asked Bragman and Grubb if they could translate their process into encouraging pointers for others facing similar life and housing transitions:

Get out your happiness meter. “When clients are downsizing, and we are working together to edit what goes and what stays, I start by asking what makes them happiest. Then we look at what fits,” Grubb said.

Consider your art on loan. “I look at it this way,” Bragman said, “I may have paid for the art, but I don’t own it. I am only the caretaker so long as I have it. I appreciate that now someone else will enjoy it.

Plan to subtract then add. “When moving to a smaller space, you actually need to get rid of more furniture than you think,” Grubb said, “to make room for some new items you’ll need to pull the place together.”

Enlist a pro. A professional designer will help you figure out what will work. Grubb knew right away that certain pieces wouldn’t work, but he let Bragman try them anyway. “He would say, ‘We’ll see,’” said Bragman, “when he really meant, “It won’t work.’”

Be realistic about value. “I had a lot of custom furniture,” Bragman said. “I learned they were not worth much.” He sold some for small amounts and gave a lot away. “New furniture is like a new car, it depreciates the minute you drive it off the lot,” Grubb added. Plus, today’s used furniture market is flooded.

Discover the upside of downsizing. “I loved my farmhouse, but this is more my style,” Bragman said. “It feels great. I have everything I need and nothing I don’t. I wish more people knew that if they scaled back, they could be so much happier.”

Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go.” Reach her at www.marnijameson.com.