Funk, Glam and Grit clash in the vibrant Los Angeles home of a TV power couple

When you talk “home” to writer and director Mara Brock Akil, you’re not necessarily talking about paint swatches, sconces, and square footage. I mean you should. Besides being the creative powerhouse behind TV shows like Girlfriends and being Mary Janethe screenwriter and producer is also revealed to be a design expert who masterfully renovated the Los Angeles home she shares with her husband, Black Lightning director Salim Akil, and their sons, Yasin and Nasir. It’s awash with beautiful original details, vintage Murano chandeliers, and a robust collection of work by black artists, including Lorna Simpson and Noah Davis.

The family’s yellow labrador, Dizzy, lies on the tiled floor in the hall, above which hangs a 1960s Venini chandelier by MA+39. Artwork by Noah Davis.

Kelly Marshall

But for Brock Akil, design is about more than just the details: it’s about the kind of lifelong desires that passionately touch you and drive you to moodboard since you were a teenager. “We are really our heart’s desires,” she says. “And I want my home to reflect that.”

“We are really our heart’s desire. I want my home to reflect that.” —Mara Brock Akil

Brock Akil’s career – she runs her own busy production studio in LA and has a development deal with Netflix – is on a roll. But in recent years she realized that she craved a place of refuge as a source of inspiration and recovery. That need became even more pressing in the wake of the 2016 murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, two unarmed black men who were shot by police within weeks of each other that summer. A generally optimistic person, Brock Akil found herself paralyzed with fear in a country that was constantly undermining and devaluing black life. “Joy is earned,” she says. “We don’t have to wait for it. And that’s what this house is.”

She had always loved Hancock Park, a historic enclave in the Wilshire section of LA. A Zillow listing for a late 1920s Italian Renaissance style house stopped her. The 10,400-square-foot home had beautifully preserved architectural details and amenities such as a gym, pool, and movie room. Still, she wondered, “Can we live in it? Can we reach that ‘dream state’?”

elongated dining table in a delightful stone colored parchment with delicate vintage chairs in gold frames and white seats and backs and a starburst chandelier, a dramatic painting of a child in a gilt frame, windows on all sides with long flowing white curtains

In the dining room, the vintage elongated meeting table is covered with parchment. Vintage Dan Johnson Chairs and Murano Chandelier, Pegaso Gallery Design; artwork by Elon Brazil.

Kelly Marshall

She enlisted designer Tiffany Howell of LA firm Night Palm Studio and explained her goal to create a home that reflected her own family’s story while preserving the home’s history. It was their third project together – the two first connected after Brock saw Akil Howell’s work on actress Laura Harrier’s home in Silver Lake. She hired Howell to design the creative suite in her production offices and was impressed when it was completed in just three months.

a kitchen has two opposing steel islands, both with a sink and cupboards below, appliances embedded in a wooden cupboard against the marble back wall, windows to the left and artwork to the right, all seen through an arch

In the kitchen are custom Arclinea cabinets and islands and the walls are clad in Arabescato marble. The appliances are from Miele; the Salt-N-Pepa artwork is by Janette Beckman.

Kelly Marshall

Like Brock Akil, the designer believes that a space is first defined by a ‘feel’. Former music video director Howell starts with a soundtrack for each client; Brock Akil’s was heavy on Sade, John Coltrane, Solange, Phyllis Hyman, Prince and Anita Baker. This is followed by a study of favorite smells, places to travel and other design preferences. “I do a deep dive,” says Howell. With Brock Akil, she discovered the writer’s love for 1970s Italian and French interiors, accentuated by a bit of “funk and grit.”

Designer Tiffany Howell, former music video director, starts with a soundtrack for each client.

In Hancock Park, the atmosphere is immediately evident in the hall, which features a wide staircase, arches, and a skylight encased in a ceiling painted a silvery blue. Reminiscent of Morocco where the Akils honeymooned, it feels less like a foyer and more like a courtyard. Howell sparingly furnished it with a black olive tree in a terracotta pot and a 1960s Murano chandelier that hung from the high overhead ceiling. Equally dramatic is the family’s dining room, where the wainscoting is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Skimming Stone, a creamy color Howell describes as “candlelight,” creating a soft glow around a vintage oblong table covered in parchment.

living room with wraparound doors with cream curtains from ceiling to floor each leading outside and with two opposing vintage Italian sofas in green velvet with a cocktail table between them and two round leather chairs with gold stands on either side of each sofa

Kelly Marshall

Howell was tasked with honoring each family member’s unique personality and taste while also building bridges with the home’s overall style. Salim was given a book-filled study with a low-slung brown velvet sofa perfect for reading. In their own lounge, the boys stretch out on vintage leather Togo sofas that Howell bought from a dealer in Prague. And of course Brock Akil has several rooms of his own. One, aptly named the Rosé Room, is painted with a soft blush. Here, Brock Akil hosts friends such as legendary model and activist Bethann Hardison, who recently stopped by to admire the Vladimir Kagan sofa and pool view.

a library has built-in shelves painted blue along two walls filled with books and artifacts, a short wooden-legged stool with a deep blue velvet seat, and a curved sofa in a plush tan fabric

Howell took old-fashioned European libraries as inspiration for Salim’s blue study. Sculpture by Kehinde Wiley (top center); artwork by Peter Beard (top right); pitcher by Kara Walker.

Kelly Marshall

Upstairs, the master bedroom has a custom floating bed upholstered in blue velvet; artwork by Kara Walker hangs overhead. And across the hall is Brock Akil’s dressing room, where her well-crafted wardrobe hangs from custom powder-coated rods, her shoes perfectly aligned underneath. The walls are covered in Scalamandré wallpaper and a sitting area has a round vintage sofa and an Italian mohair lounge chair salvaged from a Barneys department store in New York.

The boutique-like space is also a wonderful tribute to the shopping trips she took to Saks Fifth Avenue with her grandmother, mother and aunt as a child. As black women in 1970s and 1980s Los Angeles bought St. John’s knits, she was always aware of the racial barrier—and how her own family insisted on taking up space. And now in her own home in Hancock Park, she continues the tradition.

Styled by Bebe Howorth

September 2022 cover elle decor

This story originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE

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