Husband and wife team behind Bughouse get creative in Westchester

Westchester residents Rebecca Johnson and Jeff Klarin are the creative duo behind art and design studio, Bughouse. Both native Angelenos, the married couple love to create art in a variety of media and find inspiration everywhere, especially when it comes to the natural beauty of the area.

From fun paintings and graphic design work to custom furniture and photography, the two enjoy challenging themselves with new projects and hope to help bring more public art to the community.

Get the scoop on this month’s spotlight by reading below!

Q. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. A. Rebecca: I was born in Santa Monica and raised in Westchester. My husband and I recently moved back to Westchester after living in Northeast L.A. for the past 20 years. Jeff and I are partners in our art and design business, Bughouse. We spent many years working in television graphics and eventually transitioned to making art full time and graphic design part time. 

We have two mutts, Finn and Jones; they excel at barking, eating and sleeping. One of my favorite ways to unwind is tending to our native California garden. During the long lockdown of 2020, I immersed myself in Zoom classes on native gardening and had an epiphany about how individual action can influence the environment on a macro and micro level.

Jeff: We’re both native Angelenos, and we moved to Westchester four years ago. Since Rebecca grew up here, it is a dream to be back. 

We’ve traveled quite a bit, but we truly believe that Los Angeles is as good as any major city in the world. With so many distinct cultures and styles, being artists and designers here is a constant inspiration.

Q. Please tell us a little bit about your business A. Jeff: Bughouse is a design studio owned and operated by both of us. Over the years, we have designed business systems for small businesses, done promotional animations for numerous entertainment companies, designed a series of wine labels and created physical awards for the Grammy Museum and the Woody Guthrie Center. We always like to challenge ourselves by working in new areas, while hopefully retaining a unique outlook on the product at hand. The name Bughouse is British slang for crazy house or mental institution.

Q. What is your favorite medium to work with? What are some of your favorite subjects?

A. Rebecca:I spent decades as a photographer, but my favorite medium is oil painting. My first–and ongoing–series of oil paintings is based on rescue dogs I photographed to help them get adopted. I’ve just started a new series, “Southland,” based on photographs and impressions of Southern California, ranging from fire-influenced sunsets to sea lions bobbing in the ocean.

Jeff: I have used many traditional medias such as acrylic, oils, casein and watercolor. Currently, I am very excited by spray paint, which has such vibrant colors. It is so immediate. You can lay down an area and go over it immediately with another color, wet-on-wet, creating a fluid mix. 

My favorite subjects are things like plants, ocean waves and clouds, as well as food. There is an intensity to the shapes and colors of food, especially ice creams, cakes, popsicles and pies. The colors are crazy rich.

A sampling of some of Jeff and Rebecca’s work. Jeff’s work includes the block art (top left), whale sculpture (top right) and “Sweet Things” collection (bottom row). Rebecca’s work includes the seabirds and portraits of “Merry,” “Astra” and “Lucky” (second row from the bottom).

Q. What do you love most about what you do? A. Rebecca: What I enjoy about painting is also what I find challenging: the problem-solving, the unknown, the image you have in your head and what emerges once the paint starts moving around the canvas. Watching the image come to life is its own sort of magical alchemy.

Jeff: Every day in the studio is like being born again. You are not sure how the day is going to go, but that is what makes it exciting. It is the moments that are unplanned that create details and shapes–the accidents that are better than the things that are carefully planned.

Q. Anything else you’d like people to know about your business or share? A. Jeff:During the pandemic, we were in the middle of a massive renovation of our house. We had very little room to work. I had to keep it simple and quick, so I looked around to see what materials I had on hand. I had scrap lumber, cardboard and spray paint. So for the first time, I worked exclusively with spray paint and acrylic markers using chip board to cut out stencils. Because COVID was so stressful for everyone, I wanted to make small pieces that were happy and made you smile, so I started painting popsicles, ice cream cones, cakes and chocolate bars. That was how the ‘Sweet Things’ series was born. [You can view the painting “4 Stack Cone” on this month’s cover.]

Rebecca: We’re looking forward to meeting our neighbors, getting involved in the creative community of Westchester and Playa del Rey, and bringing more art to the neighborhood through public projects. We’re also up for private commissions!

Q. What are some of your favorite local businesses or things you enjoy most about the neighborhood? A. Rebecca: We have so many great, local food options that I can’t list them all! This is our short list (haha): In Westchester, we most often visit Cafe Solar, The Manchester and Caravan Swim Club. In Playa del Rey, we love Playa Provisions, The Shack and Señor G’s. Our Playa Vista faves are Loqui, Ritrovo, SOL, Dan Modern and Urban Plates. In Marina del Rey, we love Sugarfish and recently had a beautiful anniversary meal at Cast & Plow. We are over the moon with the opening of our local bookstore, The Book Jewel. Kudos to them for planting a California native garden in their parking lot and hosting regular readings and performances!

Jeff: What inspires us is all this natural beauty in our own backyard. We love the Ballona Wetlands, Dockweiler Beach, the Marina and the coastal beach cities for cruising with our bikes. For us, rejuvenation comes from either making art or interacting with the beauty and power of nature.

Visit bughouse.com to learn more and view the art available for purchase.

Posted June 2021.