It started with the wallpaper almost every time.
Los Angeles designer Karen Frid-Madden proposed installing two contrasting yet complementary white and royal blue wallpaper patterns in her client Karl Thurmond's Westwood living room. Needless to say, it took a little convincing.
Then came the dining room, and her recommendation to put up a different wallpaper — a bold geometric pattern.
"We fought over this the day it was going up," Thurmond recalls, laughing. "As the guy is putting up the wallpaper, I'm sitting there saying, 'No, no, no.'"
The designer promised she'd cover the cost of removing and replacing, if the choice still didn't sit right with Thurmond.
"This is my favorite," he says now, happy to concede the victory.
A similar friendly disagreement happened again in the upstairs bedroom, but by that point, Thurmond had learned to trust. Here's how they did it:
"I've always been someone who didn't want an Ethan Allen house, or every room to look the same," Thurmond explains. When he was ready to renovate more of his home following a kitchen remodel in 2012, "a mutual friend suggested that I talk to Karen because I wanted someone who would push the envelope a little, but do it in a tasteful way."
The Westwood house built in 1947 was designed in an eclectic quasi-English cottage revival style, with very few right angles and situated on a slope. The somewhat traditional exterior "does not dictate the interior," Thurmond observes.
Learning to trust
With a demanding legal career, many community volunteer commitments and a high school-aged daughter, he hadn't had the time to give much thought to the house's aesthetics. But Thurmond knew he wanted to do something with the place, especially since he regularly hosts parties and salon-like gatherings. It took some time.
"She really got to know me, so I felt like I could trust her, and trust the process," Thurmond says of Frid-Madden, a Mexico City native and self-taught interior designer who has a background in anthropology and Latin American studies.
"When I met Karl I told him, 'I like color,'" Frid-Madden says. "He went to my house and said, 'I like color, but not this [intensity]!'"
Her own Santa Monica home is an impossible-to-miss display of paints she personally brought over the border from Mexico in order to get the bright and deeply saturated Ricardo Legorreta- and Luis Barragán-inspired pink, yellow and blue shades she couldn't find in the U.S. Her house was also a collaboration with her father and brother, both architects who live in Mexico City and Tel Aviv, respectively.
"You have to get into people's brain. What is color for you? What is elegance for you?" Frid-Madden explains.
Going all in
In response, Thurmond says, "that's why I was comfortable giving Karen carte blanche, and I knew it would be interesting." What was only going to be a project downstairs wound up being extended to a bedroom, office and bathroom upstairs.
Over four-plus years, Frid-Madden got to understand Thurmond's needs and tastes.
A ‘no sofa’ living room
In some regards, "I'm a minimalist," Thurmond says, but he also insisted on a home that would be both conducive to conversation and a conversation piece. He didn't want a sofa in the living room, for instance, because the space is "more interactive" and flexible without one, Frid-Madden notes.
"I preferred this sitting arrangement because more people can sit around and talk to each other. This is a fun place to entertain," he says, pointing to the two leather swivel chairs and the white baby grand piano, which his daughter plays. The adjacent intimate den with its hunter green accent and again, patterned wallpaper, is another inviting room for socializing, but is actually where Thurmond spends most of his down time reading on the comfortable sofa. Most of the furniture is custom.
Risks paid off
"People have a reaction to the house," Thurmond says, pointing to the aforementioned wallpaper juxtapositions, and details such as the yellow dining room chairs and Murano glass chandelier. He finds deep red a restful chromatic theme for his bedroom, hardly an orthodox choice.
In the end, Thurmond proved game to taking decor risks, and he and Frid-Madden regularly found middle ground.
He sometimes would pick one detail, such as a color in a book, or a tufted ottoman, and ask Frid-Madden to design around that element. He loves blue, so that particular color is dominant in the living room and upstairs. Otherwise, his overt direction to the designer was minimal.
Before Frid-Madden left her unconventional imprint, "it was just a place to come home and crash. Now it's a place where I feel at home," Thurmond says.
"I just love hanging out here and bringing people over."