Ultimate Home 2008: Belle of Bel Air

  • Samantha Brooks

A 15,000-square-foot residence in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, overlooking a country club, presents countless opportunities for over-the-top, garish embellishments. But instead of succumbing to those temptations, this home’s new owner, a fortysomething media entrepreneur, and his design team exercised uncommon and laudable restraint when reconceiving the circa-1926 house. The team comprised interior designer Jerry Meyer, architects Walter Meyer (no relation to Jerry) and A. Thomas Torres, contractor John Finton, and landscape architect Maureen Barnes. The owner purchased the residence three years ago and then gave his charges a one-year deadline to renovate and furnish it. In that time, they created a house that reveals its charms gradually, one room at a time, instead of all at once. "There are a lot of parts to the home that are appealing, but not competing," explains Walter Meyer. "Each room can stand alone and has its own personality. But at the same time, there’s a tremendous sense of continuity. It’s a true example of the whole being the sum of its parts."

Warmer Welcome

The house was built at a time when rooms generally were not as large as they are today, notes Jerry Meyer, the interior designer. "Every space is done on a very human scale," he says. "The home is large, but you never feel overwhelmed."

However, the entryway, which had a 28-foot-high ceiling, was imposing, until the ceiling was lowered to 14 feet. "Before, it felt like you were walking into an elevator shaft," says contractor John Finton. "There’s still a sense of drama when you walk in, but on a much more human scale."

Two deep red, mid-19th-century chinoiserie Italian consoles complement the antique Oushak rug from Aga John. Above the consoles hang two rare, late-17th-century Tuscan mirrors; all four of the pieces are from Richard Shapiro. The art hanging near the stairs includes a Damien Hirst spot painting and an Andy Warhol silk screen of a Studio 54 ticket.

The color palette for most of the home’s furnishings—reds, fuchsia, and coral—was indirectly determined by the sepia-toned, 19th-century French wallpaper panel hanging in the living room and by the client’s fascination with the romance of red. "We went through 18 color samples before we were able to find the right color match for the wallpaper panel," explains Meyer, who, over the past 15 years, has worked with the homeowner on the interiors of eight different homes. "We decided on neutral tones for the walls, which allowed us to bring in color with the rugs, drapes, and some of the upholstered pieces."

The living room, at 800 square feet, might be an exception to Meyer’s observation that the rooms are relatively small. He divided the space into two seating areas. The one shown here can accommodate as many as 10 guests. Although the table, the custom sofas, and the 120-year-old Steinway piano are precious, the homeowner insists that nothing in the room is off-limits to his guests. "I’ve been in homes where you feel like you can’t sit down. That isn’t for me," he says. "I like that you can touch and use everything here. It’s important to me that my guests are comfortable."

Seating Plan

One of the residence’s virtues is its adaptability, as dinner guests discover. The owner frequently entertains, and when the size of a dinner party exceeds the capacity of the formal dining room, shown here, the adjoining game room accommodates the overflow. "He didn’t want a space that was so large that a small dinner party would feel uncomfortable," Jerry Meyer says of the owner’s requests concerning the dining room. "So to the right of the dining room, in the game room, I designed a table with a square insert that normally holds a Man Ray–designed chess set. But the insert can be flipped over to match the wood grain in the rest of the table."

During a large gathering, partway through the meal, the homeowner has half of the guests in the dining room exchange seats with half of the game room guests, so that everyone can mingle more easily. He specified that two identical tables from Therien & Co./Studio Workshops—one shown here and the other brought out of storage as needed—be round, because a round table facilitates group conversations better than does a rectangular table.

The table (and the chairs, from Gregorius|Pineo) rests on top of an antique Oushak rug from Aga John. "The rug has a lot of hot pink and gold in it, which makes it sound atrocious if you try to describe it. But it’s the most gorgeous rug I’ve ever used," says Meyer. "It was a risk for the homeowner to use such bold color, but the rich tones became the basis for the colorful palette used throughout the home."

Although Meyer had the two chinoiserie corner cabinets treated so that they would appear aged and would blend with the room’s many antiques—including a set of four French Pier-style mirrors placed opposite the windows—he also incorporated more modern items from the homeowner’s existing collection, such as the Dale Chihuly blue glass sculpture near the window and the David Hockney painting, which hangs to the left of the table, over a fireplace.

Fireside Chats

It always smells like wood and fire in here," says jerry meyer of the library bar, located adjacent to the living room. Those scents emanate from the often-used fireplace, which originally had been topped with ornate stucco detailing that extended to the ceiling. Instead of removing the embellishment, which likely would have proved arduous, the client enlisted David Meador, the owner and president of the Los Angeles millwork company Silver Strand, to conceal it. He did so with a curved, wood enclosure that seamlessly matches the room’s original wood paneling.

The homeowner regularly uses the room for reading and relaxing, but it also serves as a casual spot for postdinner socializing. In addition to having the fireplace refinished, the design team had a bar built behind the sofa, which allows the space to function as an entertaining area. The bar also showcases pieces from the homeowner’s sterling silver collection, including a 1920s Tiffany Champagne cooler that can hold as many as five bottles. Behind the bar, countless Riedel, Baccarat, and Lalique glasses are aligned precisely, even artfully, in display cabinets. "Nothing in the home is ever out of order," explains Meyer. "Visual presentation is important to the owner. This is not a house where you’ll find clutter."

The room’s expansive windows overlook the property’s abundant, green flora. The furnishings include a red tufted sofa from Therien & Co./Studio Workshops and a mirrored coffee table from Luis Rossi, a furniture designer and restorer who trained at the Vatican.

Wines and Racks

The entertaining wing, which comprises the theater lounge, theater, wine room, and billiard room, functions as a kind of club: an area away from the main house where the homeowner can socialize casually with his friends. "People always feel relaxed when they’re in this space," says Jerry Meyer. "It’s separated from the main house, so the atmosphere is a little bit different. It almost feels like a grown-up version of a playhouse."

Prior to the renovation, the wine room and billiard room, both located at the back of the entertaining wing, were a secretary’s office and an auxiliary dining room, respectively. The pool table, an antique from Blatt Billiards in New York, was refurbished and relined with felt that complements the color of the area rug. "It looks like the kind of thing that would have been in the house when it was originally built," says Meyer of the rug, which displays a damask, tone-on-tone floral pattern in a deep sienna color. "I bought all that the company had and used it in the theater. There was just enough left over at the end to use beneath the pool table, which helps to aesthetically link the rooms."

The owner, an avid wine collector, has additional off-site and subterranean wine storage. But he keeps a cross selection of his collection in the 3,000-bottle wine room to enjoy with his friends while playing pool.

Exterior Finish

A porch furnished with several rocking chairs—a nod to the homeowner’s Southern roots—wraps around the back of the house, from outside the living room, and ends at a series of stairs that leads to the pool area and pavilion. A grill, pizza oven, refrigerator, ice maker, sink, outdoor heaters, and flat-screen TV are among the pavilion’s entertaining amenities. The area can seat a dinner party of 16, at a pair of stone-top tables from Michael Taylor Designs. The custom chairs are covered in rich red fabrics from Giati Designs and Sunbrella that are consistent with the colors found inside the home. "The backyard is visible from almost every room in the house," says Jerry Meyer, "so it was important to create a strong connection between the inside and out."

Beyond the pool, which is filled with salt water, is a double garden that stretches the width of the house. One area of the garden showcases a French iron armillary sphere and wall-mounted water feature; the other contains a small pond and a sculpture, Man & Woman, by Pascal Pierme.

A number of intimate spaces have been landscaped into the side of the hill on which the 1.5-acre property sits. Just downhill from the pavilion is a landing with a pair of benches where you can spy on golfers playing the course below the residence. Nearby, three bronze, epoxy-coated sheep, crafted by French artist Francois-Xavier Lalanne, stand on a small lawn. And serpentine paths invite guests seeking a quiet moment during larger parties to wander the hillside.

Clothes Quarters

When the entryway ceiling was lowered, the alteration created room above, on the second floor, for a large wardrobe that is attached to the master suite. The homeowner and interior designer conceived the layout for the 400-square-foot space, and David Meador crafted the cabinetry and storage systems.

The room’s design enables the owner to arrange all of the clothing by type and then by color so that he can find any suit, shirt, or tie easily, whether he is dressing for work in the morning or packing for a long trip. "I’ve had large closets in my other homes, but this one is my favorite," he says. "It’s elegant, but it’s also extremely functional and well laid out."

A gallery with a barrel-vaulted ceiling and taupe, wool-upholstered walls connects the entire master suite. In the bedroom, a custom-made oversize bed by Donna Livingston—the bed is a foot wider than a standard California king—takes center stage, while a pair of zebra-print chairs from J. Robert Scott adds a burst of drama to a corner of the room. "The bedroom is like a soothing taupe egg," says Meyer. "It’s the only room in the house that doesn’t have a lot of color. The zebra chairs are just enough to make the space interesting."

Meyer says that the worsted wool–upholstered walls, silk drapes, and velvet shades are intended to add a greater sense of depth to the area. The Venetian mirror hanging above the fireplace reflects additional light into the room.

Silent Treatment

The quiet room, as the owner calls it, is one of the residence’s most charming areas—and a consequence of a design limitation. The renovation plan originally called for the 150-square-foot room, which can be accessed only from the master suite, to be converted into an outdoor patio, with a mosaic floor. However, because the space is located above the breakfast room, on the home’s second story, that plan would have caused drainage problems. "The next best thing we could do was take advantage of the natural light and create a quiet space," explains Jerry Meyer.

The room’s second-story location affords views of the city and the verdant landscaping around the house. "It’s always bright, sunny, and very cheerful in here," says Meyer. "It actually turned out better than if it were a patio."

Gender Roles

When working on a residence that has 17 bathrooms, a designer might be inclined to follow a template, to select the same tile, fixtures, and decor for all of the spaces. However, Jerry Meyer considered the task an opportunity to refine the home’s character further. The decor of many of the bathrooms reflects their designations as men’s or ladies’ rooms. On the main level, for instance, a ladies’ room contains watercolors of female royalty, and antique maps adorn the walls of the men’s room with which it is paired.

The master suite’s bathrooms, which are located on opposite sides of the bedroom, are part of larger his and her spaces that wrap around the room. The gentleman’s bathroom is outfitted in darker woods and limestone, while the lady’s bathroom displays a lighter, brighter palette. The bathroom’s original tile was restored, and the homeowner retained the existing tub, a nickel-and-porcelain design from France. New elements include a burnished, white gold dome on the ceiling, which was installed to cover an unattractive skylight, and a mercury mirror from the era in which the house was built. Meyer equipped the shower doors in several of the bathrooms, including the master suite’s, with antique doorknobs reclaimed from European hotels, which he found at an antiques dealer in Los Angeles. The her wing also contains a spacious closet, a massage room, a study, and a sitting room.

Each of the three guest bedrooms has its own bathroom; four other bathrooms are located on the main level of the home; an additional two are set between the billiard room and theater lounge; and four more are located on the home’s lower level. Of the remaining bathrooms, one was difficult even for the design team to locate. "During one of our design meetings, we were outlining our plans for the bathrooms, and no one could figure out where the 17th bathroom was," recalls Meyer. "Then I remembered, there is a small bathroom in the projectionist’s booth in the theater. Union rules require that a projectionist must have immediate access to a bathroom. It’s small, but it’s a fun bit of trivia."

Lounge Act

The theater lounge, located at the front of the entertaining
wing, displays vintage silver gelatin prints, from the Fahey/Klein Gallery, of Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Rita Hayworth, and other movie stars who lived or socialized in Bel Air not long after the house was built. The bar area features pieces from the homeowner’s sterling silver collection, as well as 450 Riedel glasses in various sizes.

From the lounge, an arched corridor leads to the theater, where the homeowner specified that the seating be inviting. "I didn’t want it to be too much like an actual movie theater, with fixed, rigid chairs that can make you feel cramped," he explains. "I was very conscious of comfort. I take it as a compliment when people fall asleep while they’re watching a movie here."

The four-ply cashmere throw blankets, which the owner found at Rose Tarlow–Melrose House in Los Angeles, served as the color template for the rest of the furnishings. The sofas and ottomans are upholstered in cozy chenille fabric that matches the throws. The deep red color coordinates with the carpet and wall fabric. "When the lights are on, there are all kinds of different patterns and textures, but as soon as they go out, it’s pitch black," says Jerry Meyer.

The room is equipped to show 35 mm films, DVDs, or satellite television on the large screen. "Whether you’re watching an epic movie on film or a sporting event on TV," says Meyer, "being in the room is a total experience."

Design Team
Interior Designer: Jerry Meyer, Jerry Meyer Designs, 310.273.9032
Architect: Walter Meyer, Meyer Architecture, 310.234.3300, www.meyer-architecture.com
Architect: A. Thomas Torres, A.I.A., 310.456.2355
Contractor: John Finton, Finton Associates, 949.673.9587, www.fintonassociates.com
Landscape Architect: Maureen Barnes, Maureen Barnes Gardens and Homes, maureen.barnes@sbcglobal.net 

Resources
Aga John Oriental Rugs, 310.657.0890, www.agajohncarpets.com
Blatt Billiards, 212.674.8855, www.blattbilliards.com
Custom Floral by Denis Lavoie, 310.276.1214
Donna Livingston, 310.273.1855, www.dlivingstondesign.com
Fahey/Klein Gallery, 323.934.2250, www.faheykleingallery.com
Giati Designs, 805.965.6535, www.giati.com
Gregorius|Pineo, 310.204.0400
J. Robert Scott, 877.207.5130, www.jrobertscott.com
Jerry Solomon Custom Picture Framing, 323.851.7241
Michael Taylor Designs, 415.558.9940, www.michaeltaylordesigns.com
Richard Shapiro, 310.275.6700, www.studiolo.com
Rose Tarlow–Melrose House, 323.651.2202, www.rosetarlow.com
Rossi Antiques/Lx Rossi, 415.671.1144, www.lxrossi.com
Rubin Marble & Granite, 818.982.9559
Silver Strand, 818.701.9707, www.silverstrandinc.com
Sunbrella, www.sunbrella.com
Therien & Co./Studio Workshops, 310.657.4615, www.therien.com
Window Collections, 310.477.1522, www.windowcollections.com

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