Whether it’s remodeling her 1970s Laguna Beach home or running her boutique, Brass Tack, couture upholsterer Melissa Kanarek takes the same approach. “Upholstery, like life, is all about getting down to the essentials,” the designer says. “Brass tacks are the finishing details.”
When Kanarek and her Londoner husband, Paul, moved into the two-story home in 2014, there were lots of details that needed attending. “To me, it looked like a Fred Flintstone house gone horribly awry,” says Paul, the CEO of Collegewise. “But Melissa saw a library that didn’t exist, a new concrete floor replacing the old wood one that looked like it came from a Dickensian orphanage. She also got rid of the rock fireplace—a real horror show—that ran the length of the room and blocked the view of the ocean.”
The house, like Kanarek’s lifestyle shop, is filled with vintage and other unique treasures the globe-trotting couple pick up on their travels and at local flea markets and shops. A Moroccan wedding blanket, which they purchased on a drive to Marrakesh, hangs in the dining room and makes Kanarek think of an old woman with gnarled fingers sitting at her loom. Nearby, handcrafted pottery from a family in Nicaragua calls to mind a garden, an old dog napping by a kiln, laundry flapping in the breeze. “What I love is that each of the pieces has a story to tell.”
The intrepid designer will do almost anything to bring home an object she falls in love with. Case in point: The 1800s Venetian mirror she found on the French Riviera. Its journey to the Kanareks’ house required a canceled flight and a drive across France before it was put on a ship to sail across the English Channel. During another adventure, she fell hard for a Victorian library ladder at the Long Beach Flea Market. On the drive home, the ladder hung precariously out the car window. “I needed a warning flag to tie onto the end but didn’t have one,” she says. So she removed her red bra and tied it to the ladder.
Kanarek took up upholstery while living in London from 2004 until 2011. There, she spent time at flea markets, discovering treasures and old chairs that needed repair. After a year, she landed an apprenticeship with upholsterer-to-the-stars Aiveen Daly, designing artful chairs. Kanarek’s passion is upholstery, but the only piece in her house that she upholstered is a 48-inch-square ottoman in her living room. “I’m too busy making them for everyone else,” she says. And the sofas? “From Ikea,” she acknowledges, cringing slightly. “We have a new puppy. … I’m waiting until Zsa Zsa stops peeing on the furniture.”