Tucked away in the raw golden hills of Topanga Canyon, 45 minutes from the stir of Los Angeles, is the tiny four-room home of Scarlett and Nevin Pontious. They live with their two-year-old daughter, Clementine, in a tranquil space that kindles creativity.
The family home is decorated with bright oranges, photographs taken with Nevin’s vintage camera collection, motorcycle paraphernalia, and stacks of Scarlett’s books. Her dreamy watercolors are taped to the wall, and flap gently in the breeze beside an open window. Outside, the sun shines over tall grass, trees, and rocks, filling the air with a sense of calm. It’s a space the vibrant couple see as an extension of themselves.
This is their version of the Californian dream — a home they created that allows them to create.
Scarlett greets me in T-shirt and jeans, her pale red hair running down in waves. She’s a mother and from the antics of her two-year-old charge, who runs about before us laughing and crying, it’s clear that caring for Clementine is no easy task. But, Scarlett’s calm demeanor makes the job seem effortless. For 10 years, Scarlett worked as a freelance makeup artist. Her last role was with a San Diego broadcasting studio, where she also manned the cameras. She did the work of two people, so two versions of her name were used in the closing credits. She makes fun of her technical abilities, but it’s clear that she’s not only technically minded but creative as well.
Scarlett now stays at home with Clementine — a creative endeavor all of its own. She’s the one who maintains the couple’s space, organizing the home and its art into just the right puzzle. Her creative bug is obviously still active, but she feels that a return to the LA art scene would be just too stressful. As Scarlett speaks, Nevin grins through his strawberry-blonde mustache, his hands in the pockets of his shearling jean jacket. He’s a member of the creative department for the motorcycle, clothing, and coffee brand Deus ex Machina. He commutes each day on a hefty black motorcycle, twisting through canyons or racing along the Pacific Coast Highway to his workplace in Venice Beach.
When discussing Topanga, whose houses, restaurants and grocery stores are dotted along the hills and highway, Scarlett and Nevin touch on the ups and downs of choosing to live away from the urban metropolis. Scarlett notes the peace and serenity of the wide open spaces, which are a nurturing environment for a first time mom and her daughter. Nevin adds that though it is quiet, you can still hear the motorcycles buzz through the canyons, which for both of them is a comforting and familiar sound. Raising a child out here in seclusion wasn’t an easy choice, and Scarlett remembers feeling lonely being new to motherhood in utter isolation. In general, people in Topanga stick to themselves.
Nevin works on motorbikes and cars in a shed in the yard and is also an avid collector. The items he collects are those he puts to good use: cameras, motorcycle jerseys and helmets. Scarlett collects books and red lipstick, but both of their collections are bound by the limited shelves and space that they have. Though they love their home, space is getting tight — especially with bright blonde Clementine sharing their bedroom. She has her own crib, but still sleeps in the bed with the couple. Nevin describes living here as being a game of Tetris; nothing is too out of place because there would be no other place for it to go.
This portrait is part of our ongoing collaboration with ZEIT Online, who presents a special curation of our pictures on ZEIT Magazin Online.
Their lack of space is also an abundance — the interior is tight, but outside the views are expansive.
Nevin and Scarlett love Topanga because it feels like the country and not like LA. They used to visit the city late at night for warehouse parties in the Arts District, or to hang out with friends in Venice Beach. Now that Clementine is in their life, the couple seem content spending most nights in their own oasis, where succulents sit on worn wooden benches and bright red and green drawers accent their kitchen. Their home in Topanga is the first that they’ve lived in together. It’s hard for them to bring up leaving because in many ways their lack of space is also an abundance — the interior is tight, but outside the views are expansive.
In the couple’s side yard is a hot tub, chairs and string lights. Friends use the space for camping out under an old canvas Army tent when they come to visit. It’s the ideal spot to stay the night or the weekend. Nevin says that a lot of those friends, who are socially tied to Venice Beach, are ready to get out, but find it hard to leave the center of the action. Scarlett and Nevin consciously moved themselves away from this center, however, in order to focus on their common creative project: Clementine.
They were convinced she was going to be a boy, so they chose the name Mars from a Ray Bradbury novel. But when Scarlett had a girl, she suggested Clementine, and Nevin loved it. It has the feel of an “old cowboy name,” Scarlett explains, echoing the sweet and sad American song “Oh My Darlin’.” The couple say that they’re not trying to shelter Clementine but are trying to give her something special. She is not that different from any other little girl, but Scarlett and Nevin are different from a lot of other parents. They’re relaxed but aware, and conscious in their parenting choices. They haven’t enrolled Clementine in developmental classes, but instead, took her to Europe last year as part of Nevin’s work. This is the education they are trying to give their daughter: a sense of place and discovery — one that is supported by their Topanga home.
Scarlett and Nevin use their limited space to reflect themselves and their passions. Scarlett paints watercolors as a form of meditation, and hangs them on her walls. We look at one which depicts deep blue whales and curling crowns in wisps of yellow and pink. “They’re for Clementine,” she explains. She likes to paint when Nevin is working on a project — a bike, car, or photograph. This is their version of the Californian dream — a home they created that allows them to create. It’s a womb of serenity and nature on a hill overlooking mountains, close to the sea and close to the city, yet far enough away.
“Living here is like a game of Tetris; nothing is too out of place because there would be no other place for it to go.”
Outside, the sun shines over tall grass, trees, and rocks, filling the air with a sense of calm. It’s a space the vibrant couple see as an extension of themselves.
Though it is quiet, you can still hear the motorcycles buzz through the canyons, which for both of them is a comforting and familiar sound.
Thanks, Nevin, Scarlett, and Clementine, for showing us your life outside the city. The next time we’re in LA, we’ll be sure to come up to Topanga Canyon and try out the bikes. See more portraits from the greater Los Angeles area and get to know the land of sun a little better.