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 he has dealt with, past clients include Sharon Osbourne, Nick Cannon, Wendy Williams, Chris Brown and Monica Lewinsky, which just makes me feel grateful I’m not calling him for representation.
Going into the pandemic, Bragman occupied a 1,000 square-foot apartment in New York 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, 2700-square-foot townhouse in nearby Toluca Lake. Besides needing a total makeover, it had what he wanted. The bones were good, but the place hadn’t been updated since it was built in 1977.
“That was a plus,” he added. “I hate paying for a bad renovation. I’d rather pay for no renovation.” The place also didn’t have room for his extensive art and photography collection and his combined 5,200-square-feet worth of furniture.
Because a true professional knows when to call for help, the Hollywood fixer called on his longtime friend Beverly Hills interior designer Christopher Grubb to help him fix the fixer.
“We’ve been on quite a design journey,” Grubb said. “This house is 180-degrees different from his last one.”
“When you’re going through a crisis, you find out who your friends are,” Bragman joked.
Bragman bought the townhouse in May 2020. He sold his farmhouse that summer, and moved into an apartment while he, Grubb, and architect Kenneth David Lee of KDL Architects went to work on the remodel.
Using a palette of blues, grays, creams and taupes, they installed new cabinetry, flooring, fixtures and built-ins, including a ladder-clad library wall in the primary bedroom.
Then they grappled with the art and furniture. “What do you love and what will fit?” Grubb said were the defining questions. They started by selecting which big art pieces would stay and decorated around them.
“Art has a funny way of speaking to you and telling you where it belongs,” said Bragman, who estimates he sold or gave away about 35 pieces of significant art. “After I picked out what I wanted to keep, Christopher created a stunning gallery wall.”
Because going from 5,200 square-feet to 2,700 can feel like an amputation, 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. Though more than half of Bragman’s old furniture made the cut, many of the largest pieces did not. “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 where and what won’t. 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 made,” Bragman said, “pieces that I really loved but that didn’t transfer well to the new home. 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 feel like I lost weight. I have everything I need and nothing I don’t. When I visit someone who lives in a much larger, extravagant home, I appreciate it, but I thank God I don’t have it. 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 “What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want.”