'Big Bang Theory's' Kunal Nayyar's house in Los Angeles makes us all want to be TV stars
'The Big Bang Theory' actor Kunal Nayyar and Hensely designer Neha Kapur give us a peek inside their transformed Los Angeles home
When 'The Big Bang Theory' actor Kunal Nayyar moved into a Nichols Canyon compound with his wife, Neha Kapur Nayyar, in late 2011 he was overwhelmed by the idea of decorating a 5,000-square-foot hacienda surrounded by jungle or as close to jungle as one gets in Los Angeles. Just one month before moving in, the couple was married in an appropriately elaborate seven-day ceremony in India.
For a city boy leaving his Hollywood bachelor pad to cohabit for the first time with his new bride (Neha, who was relocating from New Delhi), this was a new and rather frightening territory. An anxious Kunal wondered, “What will we do with this space?” Fortunately, he says, “Neha being very cultured and having a very good eye, she saw this vision of the place.”
The previously long-distance couple had spent nearly a year seeing properties of all styles before being struck by the 1948 Spanish hacienda. Neha — a former Miss India and the designer behind luxury fashion line Hensely, which launched last fall exclusively on Moda Operandi — saw past the home's Baroque fountains.
The façade's unique shade of pink drew her in, as did the property’s somewhat triangular shape. “In India, there’s this thing called gou-mukh. It’s very auspicious if the house opens into the back like a triangle—it’s very good in Indian culture,” Neha explains. “You walked in and just felt you were in this sanctuary.”
The couple entertains weekly and has an open-door policy, quite literally. There’s a breeze blowing through the house at all times. Plus, “you don’t know who is going to show up at what time and want to eat or drink something,” says Kunal, who has played astrophysicist Rajesh Koothrappali on 'The Big Bang Theory' since 2007 (the 11th season will premiere on September 25).
Although evocative art (like a long-admired Elizabeth Fraser miniature layered among books) and curious now abound, the pair moved in with only a sofa and television. They didn’t have proper furniture for an entire six months. Their first purchase was a perfectly matched pair of green Murano lamps from Foundry.
“I was quite shocked at the price of these lamps,” says Kunal, “but after much debating and negotiating I decided, just do it, and I’m so glad I did, because it opened me up to an entirely new world of beautiful things. That was us finding something we both loved and pulling the trigger, right at the beginning.”
The couple interviewed many designers and were introduced by a Big Bang writer to Lory and Mats Johansson of Just Joh, who designed Richard Branson’s Necker Island. That credit didn’t help ease the intimidation factor, but they immediately clicked with the designers. “We met Lory and Mats and they were the nicest, humblest human beings, and nonpushy—they asked us all the right questions, got to know us, and became dear friends,” says Neha.
The design pros helped bring a new lightness to the previously chintz-filled interior without altering the bones and even retained a few chandeliers that have been hanging in the house for some 25 years. They guided the newlyweds slowly and gently through the process, taking it one day at a time.
Lory calls it “their aesthetic evolution,” explaining that at first they “concentrated on a restrained neutral, mostly white palette, but as their comfort level grew we began adding more color and depth of their personalities.” Kunal admits he was educated in the process. “I didn’t know what quality was until we started working with Lory and Mats. I had no sense of how interior design is a form of art, and how much it can add to a house, not just aesthetically but energetically.”
Their main priority was maintaining a flowing indoor-outdoor feel. “We wanted to have this living, breathing energy,” says Neha, “so you see a lot of plants inside, and there’s a Buddha inside and outside.” A Dr. Seuss–ian tree of treated paper rose petals and succulents (from Designer Views), which Kunal found mystical and intriguing, lives in a hallway. “I like to channel their love of nature and embrace their visually complex aesthetic," says Johansson. Neha's and Kunal's upbringings in India are partly to thank for this preference. “Our Eastern influence is very important,” says the actor, “so we wanted that to be part of the design.”
While they were on the same page about integrating their Indian heritage, the couple’s aesthetic preferences are quite opposite. Kunal has a “Pop Art side” he attributes to his interior designer mother, who loves bright colors, while Neha prefers subtler hues. One exception to her more subdued taste comes from a lively, six-foot-by-eight-foot, primary-colored Gond painting by Venkat Shyam, depicting the fable of a tiger cub being brought up among sheep. “We have such different opinions about how we want things to look,” Kunal says. “I learned to get out of the way quite early on.”
Despite that, every piece involved conversation. Ultimately Kunal credits his wife with “taking this house and making it a home.” They’re equally glowing in praise for Lory, whom Neha calls “just magic.” The interior designer custom-made many of their most significant pieces of furniture, including their bed, which was created by incorporating an antique kilim and draped with linen, and essentially inspired by Neha’s love of four-post Balinese beds.
“A lot of the things in the house are talking points, they all have stories,” Neha says, pointing to their gradual deliberate accumulation of decor as the reason. A great percentage, which they feel brings the house to life is from India. “Our cultural identity is not what defines us, but we are very close to it,” says Kunal. The compound is “an amalgamation of the country we live in and the country we’re from and the places we’ve traveled. We want this to be a story of our journey,” he says.
The house is “like a little baby,” says Neha. “It’s constantly growing.” Now, after six years and a summer renovation that involved transforming a library into a salon-like closet, taking a powder room from Parisian to jungle-y, and adding a marble wall and fireplace to their bedroom, it finally feels ready, evocative of them. Kunal couldn’t be happier with their home. “If we’re fortunate enough, until the day we die, we’re never going to sell this house,” he says. “It’s going to be in our family for generations.”