When talking “home” with writer and director Mara Brock Akil, you’re not necessarily going to discuss paint swatches, sconces, and square footage. I mean, you should. Besides being the creative powerhouse behind such TV shows as Girlfriends and Being Mary Janethe screenwriter and producer turns out to also be a design maven who has 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 in exquisite original detailing, vintage Murano chandeliers, and a robust collection of work by Black artists, including Lorna Simpson and Noah Davis.
But for Brock Akil, design is about more than just the details: It’s about the kind of lifelong longings that pull at your heartstrings and prompt you to mood-board since you were a teenager. “We really are our heart’s desires,” she says. “And I want my home to reflect that.”
“We really are our heart’s desires. I want my home to reflect that.” —Mara Brock Akil
Brock Akil’s career—she helms her own busy LA production studio and has a Netflix development deal—is in overdrive. But in recent years, she realized she craved a sanctuary as a source of inspiration and restoration. That need became even more immediate in the aftermath of the 2016 killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, two unarmed Black men gunned down by police that summer within weeks of each other. A generally optimistic person, Brock Akil found herself paralyzed with fear in a country that was constantly undermining and devaluing Black life. “Joy is deserved,” she says. “We don’t have to keep waiting for it. And that’s what this house is.”
She had always loved Hancock Park, a historical enclave in the Wilshire section of LA A Zillow listing for a late-1920s Italian Renaissance Revival–style house stopped her in her tracks. The 10,400-square-foot house had beautifully preserved architectural details and such amenities as a gym, pool, and movie room. Still, she marveled: “Can we live in it? Can we get to that ‘dream state’?”
She enlisted designer Tiffany Howell of the LA firm Night Palm Studio and explained her goal of creating a home that reflected her own family’s story while maintaining the house’s history. It was their third project together—the two first connected after Brock Akil saw Howell’s work on actress Laura Harrier’s home in Silver Lake. She hired Howell to design the creative suite at her production offices and was impressed when it was completed in just three months.
Just like Brock Akil, the designer believes that a space is first defined by a “feeling.” A former music video director, Howell begins 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 scents, places to travel, and other design preferences. “I do a deep dive,” says Howell. With Brock Akil, she discovered the writer’s love of ’70s Italian and French interiors, accented by a little bit of “funk and grit.”
A former music video director, designer Tiffany Howell begins with a soundtrack for each client.
In Hancock Park, the vibe is immediately evident in the entryway, which boasts a sweeping staircase, archways, 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 furnished it sparingly with a black-olive tree in a terra-cotta pot and a 1960s Murano chandelier cascading from the high ceiling overhead. Equally dramatic is the family’s dining room, where the paneled walls are painted in Farrow & Ball’s Skimming Stone, a creamy color Howell describes as “candlelight,” creating a soft glow around a vintage oblong table clad in parchment.
Howell was tasked with honoring each family member’s unique personality and taste while creating a bridge with the home’s overall style. Salim got a book-filled study with a low-slung brown-velvet sofa perfect for reading. In their own lounge, the boys sprawl out across vintage leather Togo sofas that Howell sourced from a dealer in Prague. And of course, Brock Akil enjoys several rooms of her own. One, aptly named the Rosé Room, is painted a soft blush. This is where Brock Akil entertains friends like the legendary model and activist Bethann Hardison, who recently stopped by to admire its Vladimir Kagan sofa and poolside view.
Upstairs, the primary bedroom has a custom floating bed clad in blue velvet; artworks by Kara Walker hangs overhead. And across the hall is Brock Akil’s dressing room, where her well-edited wardrobe hangs on custom powder-coated rods, her shoes perfectly lined up below. The walls are covered in a Scalamandré wallpaper, and a sitting area has a curvy vintage sofa and Italian mohair lounge chair salvaged from a Barneys New York department store.
The boutiquelike space is also a beautiful homage to the shopping trips she took as a child with her grandmother, mother, and aunt to Saks Fifth Avenue. As Black women shopping for St. John knits in 1970s and ’80s Los Angeles, he 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
This story originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE