Modern Meets Traditional

Southern Colonial home combines elegance with comfort
By Kamala Kirk
Photo by Chris Mortenson

When Ed and Margaret Tom were ready to start a family years ago, they were debating between buying a home in Beverly Hills, where Ed worked at the time, or San Marino.

“I first came to San Marino when I was 12 years old, and our neighbor brought us to The Huntington Library,” Ed says. “I fell in love with San Marino and thought it would be great if one day I could live there. Margaret used to be a teacher, and when she and I were debating between Beverly Hills and San Marino, we decided to go with San Marino because it is ranked among the top public school districts in Southern California. Education is very important to us, and we wanted the best schools for our children.”

During a vacation to Louisiana, Ed and Margaret spent time in New Orleans and Shreveport, where they admired the beautiful Southern Colonial homes. Knowing there were only a few of those types of homes in San Marino, they spent two years searching until they found the right house.

“We didn’t want a cookie-cutter home,” Ed says. “When this house became available in 1996, we knew it was our house. We can walk to The Huntington Library from here, and it’s quite magical.”

Built in 1928, the home’s entryway features a characteristic colonnade extending across the front with elegant Corinthian columns. It has an expansive front lawn with tall elm trees and a brick path that leads up to the red front door. Like traditional Colonial homes, the multipaned windows are symmetrically placed across the front of the home.

“What’s interesting about this home is that the exterior is Southern Colonial, but in the back, where a previous owner added onto the house, it looks more like a Cape Cod-style house,” Ed points out. “The elm trees in front of our house change colors throughout the seasons, so even though we live in Southern California, it gives off that East Coast feeling.”

The home, which is just under 3,200 square feet, has a spacious interior that includes a formal living room where the Toms love to entertain guests. Among the living room’s centerpieces are a piano that was a gift from Margaret’s father and a fireplace made from 17th century marble that was imported from France. The living room is a special place because it is decorated with items from various countries the couple has traveled to.  

“I caught the travel bug when I was 20,” Ed says. “I’ve traveled all over Europe and Asia. Margaret and I are avid travelers, and every time we go somewhere, we bring home a souvenir. My favorite part of the house is our living room. We have different items on display that remind us of our travels including a tapestry from France, a pewter tea set from Malaysia, and a cup and saucer from China that are from the Ming Dynasty. Whenever we invite friends over, I love to sit with them in the living room while enjoying a nice glass of wine and looking at the collection of souvenirs from all our travels. It’s a happy place for me.”

Another interesting item on display is an autographed hat that was a gift from the late Michael Jackson. 

“This is his classic hat that he wore in his music videos for ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Beat It,’” Ed says. “He had several of these hats made for his close friends. It’s very sentimental and special.”

Ed and Margaret have kept the home’s exterior the same, but over the years they have remodeled rooms, including the kitchen and bathrooms. They were previously featured on Home & Garden Show’s “Designer’s Challenge,” where three designers pitched ideas to them to transform one of their bathrooms. When they hired a designer to decorate their house, they worked together to combine the traditional aspects of a Southern Colonial home with a modern look. Their home was also highlighted in Vivid Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the United States for modern Chinese Americans.

“Our designer wanted our input, so we were very involved in the decorating process,” Ed says. “Because we live in a Southern Colonial, we wanted to maintain the home’s traditional appearance while mixing in some modern design. In the living room we have a commissioned modern painting that blends in very well with the souvenirs from our travels. We have classic French Louis XIV chairs and a more modern couch, yet it all matches. I would describe our home as The Ritz-Carlton meets Four Seasons. It’s very contemporary but at the same time comfortable and matches the classic Southern Colonial style.”

The kitchen was remodeled in 2003 and is one of the rooms in the home where Margaret enjoys spending a lot of her time. Upon walking into the kitchen, the first thing that guests always notice is the oversized island counter, which measures approximately 6 feet wide by 20 feet long.

“The average kitchen island is typically 3 by 6 feet,” Ed says. “We didn’t originally want a big island, because we thought it would take over the kitchen. Our designer insisted on it and said that we would thank her later, and she was right. When our kids were growing up, they would do their homework there while Margaret was cooking. It’s great for entertaining, especially during the holidays, because there’s plenty of space for all of the food and drinks, and it’s a fun place where everyone can gather together.”

Christmas is Ed and Margaret’s favorite time of the year, and they enjoy decorating their home to make it festive for their family and guests.

“I love that I get to use my creative energy to decorate not just the inside of the house but the outside as well,” Ed says. “At the encouragement of my sister, last year we entered the local Christmas lighting contest and came in third place, which was a lot of fun. Christmas is a very magical time in our household. Some of my favorite memories in this home are spending hours decorating, then watching our kids open their presents on Christmas morning. That’s something we’ll always remember.”

The backyard features the same Corinthian columns as the front of the house, and includes a swimming pool and spacious sitting area where the Toms often entertain guests during the warmer months. 

Ed and Margaret are also actively involved in the local community. Ed, who is senior vice president at UBS Financial Services in Pasadena, is the director of the San Marino City Club and has been involved with the San Marino Historical Society for the past 10 years. Margaret is a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway and was PTA vice president when their two sons were in school. Even after their sons graduated from USC, Margaret continues to be involved with the school district.

“One thing that drew us to San Marino is that it’s a small community that is very involved,” Ed says. “There are only about 4,000 homes here and people always joke about how San Marino is like the Mayberry, and that’s how we feel about it. Los Angeles is a big cosmopolitan city, but we love how San Marino is tight-knit and everyone knows each other. We love being actively involved in the community. To us, that’s what life is all about.”

Now married for almost 30 years, Ed and Margaret enjoy carving time out of their work and social schedules to relax and enjoy peaceful weekends at home with family.

“Margaret and I are very busy people, so we appreciate the quietness of our neighborhood,” Ed says. “We can hear the birds sing in the privacy of our garden. When we’re at home on the weekends, we enjoy being in our private paradise that is our home.”

Leave a Reply