The walls of the conjoined living and dining rooms in the Los Angeles home of actor-producers Viola Davis and Julius Tennon are wrapped in Barnaba Fornasetti’s cloud wallpaper. Ever popular among aesthetes and design cognoscenti, the beloved pattern is paradoxical, simultaneously suggesting tranquility and turbulence. From a distance, the cloudscape appears pillowy and dreamlike, an effect buoyed by its subtle grisaille palette. Upon closer inspection, the sky scene takes a blustery turn. Somehow, the pattern manages to capture seemingly contradictory illusions—the tempest itself and the calm, quiet eye at the center of the storm.
The Fornasetti pattern dovetails neatly with the multivalent character of Davis and Tennon’s Toluca Lake abode, which the couple had inhabited, along with their 12-year-old daughter, Genesis, for roughly five years before embarking on a renovation with LA designer Michaela Cadiz. They wanted their home to be less sparse and austere, yet they have a marked aversion to clutter. They craved color to brighten the formerly monochromatic scheme, just not crazy color. “I always want to go big and bold, but not too bold, not garish,” says Davis, the acclaimed Oscar-, Emmy-, and Tony-winning actor and founder (with Tennon) of JuVee Productions, a company that develops film, television, theater, virtual reality, and digital projects. “We were working in South Africa, shooting The Woman King, while the renovation was unfolding, and we were inspired by the incredible color and culture there,” Davis adds.
Cadiz, who grew up in Hollywood and worked for years as a set decorator before moving into residential design, clearly understood the assignment. “Viola and Julius have such vibrant personalities, but their house was very minimal—50 shades of gray,” the designer observes. “They asked for something not too fussy or pretentious, something comfortable, a place to relax and recoup their energy. But they also wanted something special, a feast for the eyes and the spirit. Finding the right mix was the key,” she continues.
Cadiz and her team obliged their high-profile clients with soothing, sophisticated interior ensembles where understated backgrounds are punctuated with vivid artworks and decorative accents, many in the form of graphic wallpapers: a metallic Matthew Williamson design with a dragonfly motif—symbolizing transformation and self-realization—on the ceiling of the primary dressing room; a coral-toned palm frond paper in a guest room; and, in the home gym, a dynamic hand-screened wall covering derived from Andy Warhol’s Polaroids of Muhammad Ali. “When you think about The Champ, you think about his courage and resilience, his contributions to the US and the world,” Tennon says of the, um, punchy pattern. Adds Davis, “Having him there, watching you, really keeps you on the treadmill.” (Based on the physicality of her extraordinary performance in The Woman King, the motivation has clearly paid off.)
Despite their bustling careers and hectic schedules, when home Davis and Tennon enjoy spending time in the kitchen—centered on an expansive island beneath glass globe pendants—which is no mere showpiece. “Right now we’re preparing to have 50 people for Thanksgiving, and Viola and I are doing all the cooking. We’re not playing,” Tennon insists, before offering some sage advice on preparing a succulent smoked turkey. If the kitchen is the social heart of the home, the couple’s bedroom, bathed in shades of pale yellow and ivory, is its placid soul. In addition to employing plush appointments and muted colors, Cadiz enlarged the tub in the bath to accommodate the couple’s penchant for bathing together after long days on the set and in the spotlight. “We talk, we laugh hysterically, we reconnect,” Davis says of the indispensable amenity. “Our definition of home is a sanctuary, and this is definitely a sanctuary.”
The color palette in the primary suite kicks up a notch in the cozy sitting room off the bedroom, where pinks, golds, and hints of green animate the subdued backdrop. The furnishings include a pair of midcentury lounge chairs garnered at a Hancock Park estate sale. “It’s good to have furniture that tells stories, things with history,” Tennon avers, describing the vintage pieces and auction finds that pepper the house. Indeed, he’s something of an authority—aside from his extensive acting and producing credits, he spent nearly a decade working in a Santa Monica furniture showroom called Prince of Wales, which specialized in English antiques and reproductions.
A fuller picture of the couple’s rich and varied lives—before and after their fateful meeting on the set of the CBS medical drama City of Angels in 1999—emerges in the home office, where Cadiz edited and organized a trove of photographs, mementos, and accolades. “Honestly, I didn’t go in there much before the renovation. It was too overwhelming. The trophies are still there, but they don’t feel like the main conversation. It’s much more serene,” Davis explains. “When people come to the house, I want them to walk into our lives. And our lives are much more expansive than just an Oscar or a Tony.”