Emi & Nathan's Natural History

Emi & Nathan's Natural History

Bridget Pizzo
Jun 19, 2013

Name: Eminé Avanessian & Nathan Cabrera of Pygmy Hippo
Location: Los Angeles, California
Size: 1550 square feet
Years Lived In: 4.5; Rented

Emi and Nathan's unique apartment is not for the faint of heart. You might mistake it for a natural history museum, as taxidermied critters stare back at you from every corner. It's not surprising - the couple met at Emi's past job working at a museum. One might assume that they are hunters, but actually they are nothing of the sort. Rather, they are curators, collectors, self-taught artists, DIY enthusiasts, and the owners of the delightfully itty-bitty Mid-City West gift shop, Pygmy Hippo.

Both California natives, the couple grew up collecting, and they continue to hit the flea markets every weekend in search of interesting new items to add to their home. Emi and Nathan enjoy finding antique items that have a bit of humor built in. Upon closer inspection (if you dare), you can see that the couple's style is all bark and no bite, as playfulness is a running theme in their decor. The taxidermied animals, for example, all wear funny hats, necklaces, and sometimes clothing that the couple will change out according to the occasion (they have Santa hats for the holidays, party hats for birthdays, etc). Nathan has worked in the comic book industry and enjoys visiting Japan for inspiration. That influence is seen especially in the couple's kitchen, where an impressive Peko-Chan Milky collection holds court in kitchen cabinets where the couple has removed the doors to better showcase their collection.

It takes a lot of patience and vigilance to resist the easily attained IKEA piece and choose to decorate instead with found objects.  One must be patient and wait for the right piece to show itself. As I explore Emi and Nathan's home, I can't help but be inspired to approach my home with more of a curatorial eye and less of a "I'll buy it because it fits my color scheme" approach. After all, your space should reflect you and your specific interests — that's what makes it truly feel like home. 

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: A combination of unique and antique with touches of geek and mystique! A micro-sized natural history museum and curiosity shoppe.

Inspiration: Auntie Mame visits the Madonna Inn and watches Survive Style 5+ with Indiana Jones.

Favorite Element: Lack of television! Even though we're huge movie buffs, not having a TV in the living room is great because it forces everyone to socialize rather then veg out.

Biggest Challenge: I'd have to say renting. We've pretty much done everything we can on our own as renters (updating the kitchen floor, adding moldings, painting, etc.). Once we own our own place though, the sky's the limit! Also, having a lot of friends over can be challenging, purely because parking in our neighborhood is awful.

What Friends Say: "Ooooh, is that new?!", when in fact the item in question has been in the same place all along. There is a lot to take in, so it's understandable!

Biggest Embarrassment: Definitely our bathroom floor tile, which is as old as the building. Ceramic tile from the late 1920's sounds awesome in theory, but it's in a very sad state and the building owners don't want to replace it. (This is where we can refer to the "biggest challenge" question, because we refuse to re-tile and grout the bathroom!)

Proudest DIY: We're pretty happy with how all of our house experiments have turned out, but our store, Pygmy Hippo Shoppe, is definitely our proudest DIY collaboration. The space was literally just 100 square feet of beige window space, and we built the entire store out by ourselves. We spent months mulling over every detail, from laying down the floor, to putting up the wallpaper (made by our pal, Katie Deedy), building and painting the shelves, to sewing the curtains, and hand-painting the signs. The entire experience took all of our blood, sweat, and tears, and was a true labor of love.

Biggest Indulgence: Well, it's all very indulgent, isn't it? All of the big things help tell a story and all the little tiny things fill in the gaps.

Best Advice: Not everything in your home has to be brand new from a store. Things feel more special to us when they are hand-picked, vintage and painted, found and re-contextualized, used and renewed. Our home is an ever-changing installation of ideas and visuals that is a perfect reflection of us. It's like a 3-D mood board with places to sit, sleep, and eat. Everything has a story or is tied to a memory, and all the pieces are part of a bigger picture.

Dream Sources: All of our furniture and fixtures would come Omega Cinema Props, which is a super amazing place that is actually separated into four giant warehouses full of every film prop you could imagine from every era! We'd also raid Golyester for their beautiful vintage textiles and The Museum of Jurassic Technology for some dust sculptures and Soviet Space Dog paintings

Resources of Note:

• Living room - Behr Mystic Harbor

• Parlour - Behr French Pale Gold

• Kitchen - Behr June Vision

• Kitchen - Behr Feldspar

• Hallway -  Behr Roasted Nuts

• Hallway -  Behr Timeless Tales

• Bedroom -  Behr Blaze Orange

• Bathroom -  Behr Eggshell


• Vintage taxidermy and curios - collected over the last fifteen years from various flea markets and estate sales

• Couch and side chair - Council Thrift Shop

• Coffee table - estate sale

• Quilt over couch - made by Nathan's grandfather

• Faux-fireplace/bookshelf - gift from Nathan's parents

• Cypress log (bench) - yard sale

• Hexagon side table - purchased by my mother from Atlas Furniture in 1976

• Luggage side table - made by Nathan in high school

• Vintage trunks - purchased separately at two different Out of The Closets

• Curtains and sheers - made by me

• Vintage hoof lamps - Wertz Brothers

• Vintage sphinx bookends - promotional gifts for cast and crew of  "10 Commandments"

• Charles Krafft porcelain delftware switchblades - Six Space Gallery

• Back-etched and painted "Family" mirror - made by Nathan Cabrera for Hanni El Khattib "Family" show at HVW8

• Vintage painting of Umberto the First (Monarch of Italy) - Rose Bowl Flea Market

• Vintage Odd Fellows certificate - Pasadena Antique Center 

• 1949 JC Higgens women's bicycle - Long Beach Cycle Swap 


• Vintage taxidermy and curios - collected over the last fifteen years from various flea markets and estate sales

• Vintage dress form - belonged to my mother

• Bone cabinet - gift from a friend

• Sea life/vintage bookcase - estate sale

• Chandelier - made by me

• Curtains - made by me

• Mahogany and antique brass case - belonged to my grandmother

• Record player - Goodwill

• Library bookstand - Melrose Trading Post

• Vintage Victrola cabinet - found in the street

• Vintage record shelf - yard sale

• Open curio shelf - Rose Bowl Flea Market


• Vintage Coca-Cola machine - Santa Monica Airport Antique Market

• Vintage Coldspot refrigerator -  Refrigerator repair shop in Oxnard, CA

• Vintage barkcloth curtains - made by me

• 1940's ceramic top dinette - Futurama

• "Throwing Rocks At Girls" glycee pink haired girl under etched glass by Nathan

• "Jonestown" Kool-Aid pennant - purchased at art benefit in Santa Monica (artist unknown. If anyone knows who made this, please let us know!)

• Peko-Chan (Milky) collection - amassed over the years from several trips to Tokyo and various local Japanese stores

•  "String Of Babies" by Daniel Edwards - Cory Allen Contemporary Art

• Porcelain plate collection - both Vintage + Anthropologie

• Milk Green jadite knobs - Liz's Antique Hardware

• Mid-century modern lampshades (converted into kitchen pendant lamps) - Silver Lake Sunset Junction

• 1950's pachinko machine - Ventura Flea Market

•  "Attack From Space" by Jon Vermilyea purchase at LA Zine Fest

• "Cuanto Le Gusta" framed Carmen Miranda Sheet Music - Santa Monica Airport Antique Market

•  "Zira and Taylor's Kiss" print by Allison Krumwiede from Pygmy Hippo Shoppe

• Makoto-chan "Gwashi!" flag - Nakano Broadway (Nathan's favorite place in Tokyo) 

• "I Am Utterly Alone" print by Britt Sanders from Pygmy Hippo Shoppe

• Custom nesting dolls in my likeness - gifted to me by Irene Hwang

• Shark and pigeon anatomy paper cuts by Lou Taylor from Pygmy Hippo Shoppe

• Vintage souvenir pennants - Shine Gallery

• Wacky pack poster - purchased at Comicon in 1999

• Yee-haw county fair print by Kevin Bradley - Church of Type

• T-rex print - by Ryan Berkley from Pygmy Hippo Shoppe

• Miseryland painting - by Tanja Jade

• Tiny Ben Franklin print - by Jill K

• Junko Mizuno Koushinsya print - Giant Robot

• "Worm and Apple" painting by Nathan Cabrera he made when he was in kindergarten

• Hell Kitty comic strip - taken from old black metal zine circa 1997 (this was my first framing/matting project)

• Track16/Juxtapose 8th Anniversary print - by Niagara 

• Glitter Lips - flea market

• Worker Bee - painting by Nathan Cabrera


• Amish Log Bed - vintage from estate sale

• Dresser - Out of The Closet

• Mirror - Flea Market

• Deer - Rose Bowl Flea Market

• Art Deco Side Tables - Estate sale

• Back-etched and painted "High Places" Mirror - made by Nathan Cabrera for Hanni El Khattib "Family" show at HVW8

• "FTW" mixed media sculpture - made by Nathan Cabrera for Hanni El Khattib "Family" show at HVW8

• Animal Portraits by Ryan Berkley from Pygmy Hippo Shoppe

• Vintage Keen paintings

• Miseryland painting - by Tanja Jade

• Dolphin embroidery by Stephanie Tillman from Pygmy Hippo Shoppe


• Antique medical curios, vintage toiletries and pharmaceuticals -  collected over the past fifteen years from various flea markets and estate sales

• X-ray light box - estate sale

• Antique leg braces - Obscura Antiques

• German fetal development model - Wertz Brothers

• Bronze doctor bag - Fairfax Flea Market

• Red Cross flag - Army Surplus Store

• Avon moth proofer - gift from Brent Leonosio

• Hello Kitty anatomy model - designed by Nathan Cabrera for Medicom Japan


• Graphite drawing by Tim Beadron - Six Space Gallery

• Framed photos of Nathan's uncle Bill Sapp with Cecil B. Demille, Charlton Heston, and Yul Brynner

• Baja Highway by Jack Howe - trade with artist

• Andrew Brandau After Audubon print edition

• Moroccan ceramic tile painting - Fairfax flea market

• Alaskan Hoofabou and Artic Smoo - souvenirs from Alaska

• Victorian goat cart print - flea market

• Redwood deer painting - flea market

• Your shell or mine - Fairfax flea market

Junko Mizuno "Newborn - 2008" painted pillow series

• Not All Is Noble by Sashiko Yuen from Pygmy Hippo Shoppe

• Mount Ararat painting - belonged to my grandmother

• Antique school band photo - estate sale

• Back-etched and painted "LOW" Mirror - made by Nathan Cabrera for Hanni El Khattib "Family" show at HVW8

• Mendelian heredity chart - Rose Bowl Flea Market

• Gremlin and Mogwai Anatomy - by Brad McGinty

• Blood, Sweat, and Tears - by Mark Ryden

• Wall of Death letterpress by Kevin Bradley - Church of Type

• Antique mirror - belonged to my grandmother

Thanks, Emi and Nathan!

(Images: Bridget Pizzo)

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