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Californian feeling

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A dramatic Frank Lloyd Wright-style interior takes on quite a different character with close attention to tone and touch

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An upscale house may be built of substantial materials, along strong architectural lines, but subtlety can still hold sway. Finishes, furnishings, and even material flourishes can emphasize original design lines or allow them to recede.

This large house was created by architect Jung Brannen in response to the clients' appreciation of the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. In keeping with Lloyd Wright's trademark strong, organic feel, the interior was designed with extensive wood millwork, within capacious, simple settings.

However, getting the right feel for a home can be an evolving process. Upon returning from a stay at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, the owners asked interior designers Bierly-Drake Associates to rethink the new home's emphasis. Chris Drake oversaw the project.

"The owners were effusive about the famous hotel's interior, and we were asked to redirect the interior towards that look, which is the epitome of Californian decor – airy and light, with an emphasis on texture," says Drake. "Addressing the extensive millwork played an important part in the fitout. Left as exposed wood, the millwork would have created a dark, masculine decor."

Drake's response to the clients' request was to retain the intricate millwork of the original interior, but paint it white. This preserved the delicacy of the fretwork and at the same time avoided a heavier, wood look.

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"To follow the light, white Californian feel, the entire interior of the home is painted in a soft cream, Benjamin Moore 9004," says Drake. "In a sense, painting the intricate millwork to blend with other surfaces gave it almost a textural appeal, again in keeping with the Californian style."

The home's interior is 25,000sq ft in area, and the owners keep a painter in permanent employment, sanding and repainting the surfaces.

"Subjected to changing temperatures, wood expands and contracts over time, and this has a direct effect on the paint surfaces. Cracks are filled, sanded, and painted on an ongoing basis."

The interior's ivory tones provide a suitable backdrop for an array of subtle and exotic textures that further the Californian-style decor.

The central living space is 50ft in diameter with areas of use demarcated by furniture positioning. A large custom Stark carpet is in ivory tones. The carpet is created in wool and silk – the wool for sheen and the silk for softness, says Drake.

The furniture itself is in similar cream tones. Material treatments range from ivory-colored Chanel fabrics through to Thai silk. The formal drapery is in a combination of Italian damask and Chinese antique velvet.

A Californian style of interior is also signaled by exotic Eastern touches, such as black lacquered pieces, inset with gold leaf.

Texture, intricacy of finish and ivory tones run throughout the house. In the dining area, an antique Venetian glass chandelier hangs over a bleached satin wood dining table, with silver leaf inlay. The dining chairs are upholstered in an ivory-hued leather.

Away from the Stark carpet, much of the interior is floored in French limestone – another Californian-influenced element. This is inset with a brown Emerador marble, for added visual interest. The strips of marble inlay also echo the shapes of the millwork on adjacent pillars. Bleached maple flooring sits alongside the limestone.

Upstairs, the pre-eminence of luxurious materials and textures is continued in the master bedroom. The bed itself, with scrolled headboard and feet, was designed by Syrie Maugham, the wife of author Somerset Maugham. An ivory-toned ottoman is covered in a Ralph Lauren cashmere fabric – fashion fabric reinvented here as upholstery.

Elliptical millwork provides a defining element between the master bedroom and adjacent sunroom. This subtle curved element is repeated in various areas, including the living room and bathroom.

The bedroom floor has a Stark carpet while the sunroom is paved in under-heated stone.

Finished in marble, with a palette of white, gray and silver, the bathroom has a steam room, sauna and spa bath, and has the feel of a health spa.

"The owners regurlarly entertain and hold charity events in the home," says Drake. "Even with the fine materials and finishes running throughout, this house is built to be lived in."

First published date: 24 May 2005

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Credit List

Interior designers Bierly-Drake Associates ASID (Boston, MA)
Architect Jung-Brannen Associates
Flooring Stark Carpet; French limestone; bleached, pickled, white oak
Lighting Halo Lighting
Entrance Table and chairs from J Robert Scott Furniture
Lounge Upholstery, McLaughlin Upholstery;
Fireplace custom design in French limestone
Dining room Table and chairs, J Robert Scott Furniture;
Chandelier Karl Springer
Master bedroom Upholstery, McLaughlin Upholstery;
Bed McLaughlin Upholstery;
Lamps John Boone; Artwork Raul Dufy
Master bathroom Marble surfaces;
Faucets Waterworks;
Bathtub and sink Billy Brenner
Pool room tiling, American Olean;
Furniture McGuire