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Lara Spencer trades vintage country for Hollywood modern
Lara Spencer and David Haffenreffer traded more than time zones last year when they moved from Greenwich, Conn., to Beverly Hills. They crossed architectural decades. Spencer, host of "The Insider" celebrity news show on CBS, and her husband, a former CNN anchor, left behind a bucolic 1901 carriage house and adopted furniture, art and accessories for the 1960s home they bought here.
"People familiar with our house in Connecticut think that I have a split personality," Spencer says with a laugh. "But this house has a L.A. vibe — and we thought it would be fun to play that up. We were looking for the classic, Los Angeles, midcentury style. There are not a lot of houses like this in Connecticut."
Six months of renovations behind them, the couple settled in last summer into a fresh mix of Hollywood Regency, midcentury modern and contemporary casual, all tailored for a household that includes two children and two dogs. Spencer has continued to put finishing touches on the interiors, recently hanging framed panels of period wallpaper even as she prepares to work the red carpet at the Oscars on March 8. Next month she also heads to the Rose Bowl Flea Market to shoot the pilot for "Fleaflip," which she created with Merv Griffin Productions for the Game Show Network. The show pits teams competing to discover and repurpose the best buys — a concept that Spencer says was inspired by her passion for "the hunt."
Finding the right home and look for themselves wasn't easy for Spencer and Haffenreffer.
"It was the 104th house we saw," he says of their newly redecorated white stucco-and-glass residence, whose long, horizontal lines rise above a figure-eight swimming pool with uninterrupted views to the west.
The split-level, 4,000-square-foot home had been destined for the wrecking ball, Spencer says.
"It had been in and out of escrow three times during the year we were house-hunting, and the buyer before us was planning to rip it down." She and Haffenreffer saw beyond the dark paneling, the shag carpeting and the heavy curtains. "It was packed with junk, but I could tell this house had great flow and potential," she says.
Spencer grew up poking around suburban New York's flea markets and yard sales with her mother, learning how to spot a diamond in the rough and how to get an expensive look for less.
Her personal interest in furniture and collectibles took a professional turn in 2002, when while working as a "Good Morning America" correspondent she landed a second gig as host of "Antiques Roadshow." Her three-year relationship with the popular PBS program gave her a crash course in design and decorative arts. It also fueled a side career in interior design and antiques, although now that Spencer has embraced a modern aesthetic, she's not quite sure what to do with a storage unit filled with 19th century décor.
"I did try to sneak an English campaign chest into the furniture plan," she says of the Beverly Hills home. "But after the fifth time I moved it, I gave up. I knew I had to listen to what the house was dictating."
The house spoke largely through two original features: its metallic-flecked gray terrazzo floors, which had been hidden under all that shag, and its rotunda.
Spencer covered the rotunda's walls with silver-threaded grass cloth and replaced a debris-filled skylight with a glass clerestory.
"I call the rotunda the nerve center of the house," she says. "It has five openings, so you can stand here and see into the dining room, living room and family room — and outdoors."
Many of her furniture, lighting and accessory choices are round, including a C-shaped sectional sofa upholstered in faux ostrich and pendant lighting made of strings of graduated glass balls.
A cool platinum and white palette links the first floor rooms and plays off the refinished terrazzo floor and new quartzite stone cladding on the original two-sided fireplace. (The same stone also was added to the exterior of the house.) Pops of brilliance come from acid green, aqua and fuchsia accessories, including an area rug from the Rug Co. a pair of turquoise thrift store lamps and a 1960s cityscape rendered in chartreuse and black that she picked up for $200 on the This Is Not Ikea website.
More pop comes in the form of art by Todd Goldman, a Los Angeles painter whose retro-cartoon canvases Spencer describes as "a little naughty." One Goldman painting in the living room reads: "Gold digger: like a hooker, just smarter."
That artwork hangs next to a split-level staircase that leads up to three bedrooms and down to a playroom. Spencer and Haffenreffer replaced the staircase wall with vertical bars to make the room feel larger. They also took out sections of wall on both sides of the fireplace, connecting the living room and family room and getting more light to flow through the spaces, says Haffenreffer, who is now working in real estate.
The kitchen's footprint remained the same, but the existing cabinets received an ebony coating, new hardware and pearly Carrara marble countertops and backsplash. Marble also tops a renovated bar, which, now that the couple knocked out another wall, is connected to the once-hidden dining room. Spencer wrapped the front of the bar with patterned mirrored panels found at a vintage shop in Palm Springs. A set of four chrome and white leather bar stools completes the space.
To glam up the dining room, Lara played with glossy finishes she never used in her previous home. The Mylar-backed peacock print from Walnut Wallpaper in Los Angeles is fun and groovy, Spencer says. "It's so over-the-top 1960s." She playfully paired a vintage Eero Saarinen Tulip marble pedestal table with 1960s polished aluminum Russell Woodard patio chairs and Rose Bowl Flea Market ottomans that Lara had recovered in hot pink mohair.
Upstairs, the not-so-serious sense of style continues in the children's rooms. Duff, 7, has his name spelled out in big letters and stores his clothing in a bank of lockers turned into a dresser. Kate, 5, "was very involved in her choices," Spencer says, describing the room's large-scale purple-and-white printed wallpaper.
In the serene master suite, Spencer and Haffenreffer escape to a muted version of the first floor's palette, centered on an elegantly piped headboard upholstered in platinum gray. It's hard to believe the piece came across the country from Connecticut, where it had been covered in a dark paisley pattern.
With the move west to host "The Insider," Spencer has reinvented herself, design-wise.
"Our 1901 farmhouse was clubby and filled with lots of plaid," she says. "Now we have a little Hollywood Regency, a little midcentury modern and a splash of Art Deco."
The transformation doesn't surprise Marsha Bemko, the "Antiques Roadshow" executive producer who worked with Spencer in 2002 and 2003.
"Her style has evolved," Bemko says, speaking by telephone from Boston. "Lara had traditional objects in her Connecticut home, but even before she moved out to Los Angeles, she always had eclectic taste. She follows the first rule of collecting: Buy what you like."