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Henson home combines steampunk and green-tech features Kermit the Frog would love

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LOS ANGELES, CALIF.—Steps descend to a wood-and-steel bridge that leads over a pocket garden to a bronze door in a cedar-clad wall.

This is the curtain-raiser on the house in the Sherman Oaks neighbourhood that was built by Brian Henson — scion of the Henson Muppet empire and director of this past summer’s puppet film The Happytime Murders — and Mia Sara, a poet and actress who starred as Sloane Peterson, the girlfriend in the 1986 cult film, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.

The L.A. home hugs the hillside, and its windows offer a stunning panorama of the city.
The L.A. home hugs the hillside, and its windows offer a stunning panorama of the city.  (TREVOR TONDRO / The New York Times)

The house was designed by Kristen Becker of Mutuus Studio, an architectural firm known for its embrace of natural settings and materials, artisanship and “kinetics” — industrial-scale, movable building elements, like hand-cranked skylights on chunky hinges.

Becker had previously remodelled the couple’s loft in Tribeca, N.Y.C., and grasped her clients’ shared esthetic, which Sara, 51, calls “archaic” and Henson calls “contemporary medieval.”

Just over the threshold, a kitchen area — dark with blackened steel and walnut veneered cabinets — is at the back, dining is in the middle and living at the sunny end of the large home. Light pours from black-framed and mullioned windows and clerestories on three sides. The far wall is glass and looks south onto a stunning panorama of Los Angeles.

Mia Sara and Brian Henson in their home overlooking L.A.'s San Fernando Valley.
Mia Sara and Brian Henson in their home overlooking L.A.’s San Fernando Valley.  (The New York Times)

The room is filled with idiosyncratic objects: Henson’s cast from a childhood bone break, covered in cartoons by his father, Jim, and displayed in a case like a relic; a bronze table; African masks chosen by Sara’s father, Jerome Sarapochiello, a former photographer, one-time draftsman for industrial designer George Nelson and now, as Sara describes him, “picker extraordinaire.”

Over coffee at a teak dining table by Danish designer Finn Juhl, under a chandelier made of bicycle chains, the couple explains why their 900-sq.-ft. dining room is the heart of the house.

“Mia loves to cook,” Henson, 54, says. “We also just felt like the whole grand-room lifestyle for a family really keeps you all connected, particularly today when everybody vanishes to different corners of the house.”

The couple took architectural cues from an Irish medieval tower keep, called Bunratty Castle.

The 900-sq.-ft. dining-great-room is in the middle of the home, surrounded by walls of windows.
The 900-sq.-ft. dining-great-room is in the middle of the home, surrounded by walls of windows.  (The New York Times)

“I didn’t want to do some oldy-worldy, strange, medieval-looking thing in the middle of Los Angeles,” says Sara. “But I liked the feeling because there are certain very elemental things like a central hearth and one big room with a sort of great hall.”

And, this being Los Angeles, the “great hall” has an indoor-outdoor aspect that Henson reveals as he turns the wheel of a heavy metal gear-and-chain contraption and makes a west-facing window pivot like a garage door — opening up the room to a terrace for outdoor dining and to a zigzag pathway down to the pool and guest rooms.

The house, in other words, is both steampunk and greentech, Arthurian and Manhattanite.

The kitchen is dark, with blackened steel and walnut veneered cabinets.
The kitchen is dark, with blackened steel and walnut veneered cabinets.  (The New York Times)

Inside, blackened steel mixes with brass and copper. Floors and stair treads are antique-fumed oak; the master bath and bedroom upstairs are separated by a sliding screen made of woven copper strips. The building, composed of intersecting volumes that step down and hug the hillside, has walls that are cast-in-place concrete or clad in stained cedar siding.

And with the exception of a mound of stuffed Muppets in the room of their 14-year-old daughter, Millie, and two stone stools on the deck with monster feet, the house does not scream goofy creatures.

Growing up, “we always owned workshops and those places are where you would find all the creatures and that feeling. But home was always home,” Henson said.

Their home, which also has a grey-water system, delivers a “super-luxurious lifestyle” while being “environmental without being weird,” Henson says. “Weird,” he explains, describes “the people who can never turn their air-conditioners on,” even “when it’s really, really hot.”

That lifestyle is also about occupying a reasonable amount of space. The house, with its garage and mechanical systems, takes up about 4,200 square feet, on an almost 12,000-square-foot site. The family uses about 3,000 square feet, down from 5,000 in their previous home, and an area they believe is just right.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place. HomeYou’ve been selected.Only $1.49/week for your first 4 months.Special offer just for you. Unlimited access.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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A Simplified Guide for Toronto First-Time Home Buyers

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Toronto is the largest city in Canada, the fourth largest city in North America, which makes it an exciting place to live in.

But as with other major cities, finding the perfect place to move to can get tricky. If you’re planning on buying a home for the first time in this city, it is indeed a big decision and there are things you should know in advance.

Don’t worry, this guide will help explain the basics of what you as a buyer should know when you decide to buy a home. It will make you feel like a true expert during the buying process.

Decide what type of home you are looking for

There is no right answer to what makes a good home. It all depends on your preferences and needs as the resident. It is, therefore, a good idea to determine as early as possible which features of a home are important to you. If you are buying a home and moving in with someone, it can be a good idea for both of you to make a list and compare.

Toronto is a city that offers different styles of living accommodations and its neighborhoods are quite versatile and diverse, same as the people living there who come from all parts of the world.

The most common forms of housing and real estate opportunities in this city include bungalows, two-storey houses, split-level homes, and the very popular Toronto condos. Due to the high property values, the city boasts of construction of many condominiums as they are a more cost-efficient choice and provide a plethora of benefits.

When you decide on the type of home you want to buy, it is good to do some research and learn the biggest differences between them.

What to think of when choosing homes in Toronto

There are certain things you need to consider when choosing your home in this city. 

Being close to the things you need to visit every day makes life a lot easier. Pay attention to the proximity to shops, preschools, schools, and your job. In addition, access to good public transportation is crucial. Being able to move around the city easily and the opportunity to commute is important to many.

Know that having a balcony can significantly increase the value of your home and improve your well-being. Being able to move easily in the area is something that many people underestimate, but can be very convenient, and this is why you should see if there are good cycles and walking paths. 

And finally, make sure that the house is well designed which is a quality that does not disappear with the age of the house or with renovations. 

Set your budget

Before you start the search for your new home, you must know how expensive of a home you can buy. It is preferable to know in what price range to look for. The budget is usually decided based on your mortgage and how large are the monthly costs you can handle.

A mortgage is always about a balance between risk and income for the bank. The higher the risk for the bank to lend to a particular home, the more expensive the mortgage will be. When it comes to the bank’s reasoning when applying for a loan, it is in principle always a question of whether you as a borrower will be able to repay the mortgage.

The bank also takes into account your financial history. If you are a person who has managed your finances well, the chance increases that you will get your mortgage approved. If, on the other hand, you have a bad reputation with banks, it is weighed in as an aggravating circumstance.

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