They had started with a designer who turned out to be "über-Hollywood, Spielberg-scale money." So they reconnected with Bernard.
"We had lost touch," Bailey recalls. "So when we asked Bernard to design the house, we played the downtown card. You know, 'We're all struggling artists.' "
Bernard had been struggling. In the mid-'90s, his Berlin-based recording career had come to a grinding halt when MTV Europe yanked a video in which he wore "a rock 'n' roll version of Nijinsky's costume for 'Afternoon of a Faun,' toe shoes with knife blades for heels and a lot less makeup than Dee Snider of Twisted Sister."
Having appeared in the films "Last Exit to Brooklyn" (1989) and "Storyville" (1992), Bernard moved to L.A. but found the Hollywood audition mill "unbelievably degrading. I wasn't hungry enough to put myself through the masochism of being an actor in this town."
To pay rent, he became a decorative painter. "I wielded a mean stencil," he says. "People used to call me Eldin, like the character on 'Murphy Brown,' because I would move in with them for months." Soon he was consulting on window treatments and furniture, decorating offices for agents and accountants, designing a Texas home for Dixie Chick Natalie Maines.
It was the perfect career transition for Bernard, who as a boy in New Orleans used to take plantation tours and go to open houses with his mother, a professional seamstress and, he says, "quite a homemaker — she could take an old iron base and a gilt mirror and put them together to make a table."
That kind of ingenuity proved useful when it came time to reconfigure the top floor of Bailey and Barbato's house, turning two smaller rooms and a hallway into a larger bedroom-bath. Impressed with the design, the pair commissioned Bernard to draw up plans for renovating the top floor of an Art Deco building on Cherokee Avenue that the filmmakers had bought for their business, which has expanded to nearly 50 full-time employees.
"The idea was that it should be a pared-down version of an old bank," Bernard explains, "slightly modernized but harkening back to the era when the building was built."
"The '20s and '30s were the first original American style," contends Bailey. "It all connects to old Hollywood."
So it would be when it came to decorating the house. In what was once a storage space, Bernard created a movie moment, transforming the lower level of the house into a bookcase-lined library with a fireplace and a desk clad in orange leather and studded with brass.
"It is purportedly from the estate of the producer Irving Thalberg," Bernard says. "And it is quite possibly a custom piece by William Haines, the Hollywood decorator about whom Fenton and Randy were making a biographical documentary at the time." Using the colors of the desk and a hearthside Spanish Deco rug for inspiration, Bernard painted the cross-beamed ceiling in complementary shades of olive and orange, turning the room into a cozy think tank.
"Bernard is a brilliant colorist," Bailey says, walking through the house, followed by mutts Edith and Sabrina. "He painted the kitchen, which had blue tiles, this shade that changes colors from blue to green to gray throughout the day. Some of his choices scare me on paper, but they always work on the wall."
"In New Orleans," Bernard explains, "people are fearless. You look in houses in the Quarter and the Garden District and there's this rainbow of colors. I always say color is your friend. And if you decide you don't like it anymore, it's the easiest thing in the world to change."
Building a library downstairs freed up the living room for a decorative scheme worthy of a house built by an employee of DeMille. Down came the bookcases surrounding the fireplace; up went an Art Deco peach-colored mirror hearth. The inspiration for the mirrored fireplace, says Bailey, came from his teenage fascination with Biba, the glittering Art Deco London department store designed by Barbara Hulanicki during the height of the 1970s glam rock period.
When Biba went out of business, Bailey bought a piece of its signature wallpaper. Bernard had it reproduced by a company in Australia that prints wallpaper by Florence Broadhurst, an Australian designer Bailey discovered a few years ago while shopping in London's Selfridge's. With large-scale prints and metallic colors, these wallcoverings are used sparingly, in two vestibules leading to a bamboo-furnished guest room and the stairway to the downstairs library, which flank a media center hidden behind wood panels.
It is a swank take on the traditional screening room, with square sofas, a glass coffee table from Blackman Cruz, tapestry ottomans by Jonathan Adler and two swiveling club chairs that Bernard designed and covered in a Gretchen Bellinger gray wool with metallic threads. When the sun is shining, the dark silk velvet curtains glow with an orange incandescence.
It was in this room that Bailey and Barbato spent a merry, if somewhat unusual, Christmas in 2002. They had gathered friends for a screening of "Deep Throat," the 1972 XXX-rated film that became the most controversial and successful independent film ever made. Fascinated by its cultural and political impact, Imagine Entertainment's Brian Grazer had approached Bailey and Barbato to direct a documentary about it.