What distinguishes Walter Herrington's Pasadena home is not so much the 1950s architecture, which is quite lovely, nor the vista of the arroyo, though that's beautiful too. What sets apart the dwelling are his possessions, more specifically the graphic way in which he displays them — not surprising given that his business, the Tulino Design Group of Hollywood, is a design packager and photographer for the home products industry, with clients such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Costco, Lamps Plus and Nambé.
Herrington, a graduate of the Chouinard Art Institute, surrounds himself with artful compositions. His eye-catching modern tableaux often begin with a fresh flower or sculpture. A tall glass vase with a branch of pink cherry blossoms might be at the center of a spring dining table composition. After placing the flowers, Herrington often adds his most recent acquisition — a new book or a mask from a recent trip, or perhaps simply an object that he hasn't looked at for a while.
On one visit, the dining table is topped with five art books interspersed with leaf-shape plates "to bring a bit of the outdoors in," he says. Also on the table: a round wood Armani Casa box, a carved wood finial and a smoky-glass room fragrance bottle from florist Christian Tortu. A pair of leather trays at each end of the table neatly holds incoming and outgoing mail, keys and a pair of eyeglasses.
"When you take a book off the shelf or objects out of your closet and place them on a table, it's a way of seeing and enjoying them again," says Herrington, who leaves the tablescapes for two weeks to two months — "or until I get something else and make an arrangement around that."
Atop his built-in hall credenza, Herrington styled objects in a pair of trays: a postcard of Irving Penn coupled with a beaded African necklace, a decorative Peter Shire plate with a photography book, a carved wood sculpture and pyramid paperweight. Anchoring the composition is an X-shape Crate & Barrel lamp on one side and on the other, a sculptural rebar-and-concrete remnant he picked up at a building site. An arresting botanical photograph by Tom Baril leans casually against the wall.
"I group whatever I feel looks good together in trays. They're easier to move around into a pleasing composition," the designer says.
Herrington's tableaux recall 16th century Dutch still lifes, except instead of fruit and flowers, he prefers modern objects for living.
The music room's center table, draped in an off-white canvas and topped with a bleached cowhide, displays objects in a surprising variety of motifs: ceramic vases painted with vertical and horizontal stripes, a polka dot bowl and box, a trompe l'oeil stack of plates (actually, a box), a harlequin-pattern letter opener. Photography and furniture books and remote controls also join in the mix.
A dramatic 4-by-5-foot photograph by the late Seydou Keïta of an African woman reclining takes up most of the adjoining wall and dominates the charcoal-hued room. Opposite, a dozen portraits and botanical photographs by Baril, Penn and Tony Gleaton are hung in a relaxed, gallery style. Photographs here and throughout the house create a home-as-gallery ambience, while his array of global artifacts — masks and sculptures, carved tables and ethnic textiles collected on his half-dozen trips to West Africa — add a rich layer of world culture.
It all lives inside a 2,000-square foot, two-bedroom home that was in excellent condition when Herrington bought it in 1996. The 1950s architecture suited Herrington just fine, but like many Midcentury aficionados, he didn't want to feel like he was actually living in the '50s. So he set out to create interiors that were simple and comfortable, he says, "more like the décor of Vicente Wolf and Thomas O'Brien with a bit of Jean-Michel Frank thrown in."
To achieve the minimalist, global look he desired, Herrington combined a well-chosen mix of Eurostyle and classic-line contemporary furnishings with ethnic pieces. A Christian Liagre dining table and chairs stand near the open living room's Palazzetti sofa and a web lounge chair by Wolf. An array of natural baskets and a Kreiss rattan bench-turned coffee table add texture to the room, while a Ralph Lauren Buffalo check rug set atop a bound sisal carpet and hardwood floors adds warmth and graphic punch.
Outside, he changed the traditional white facade with gray trim to a hipper olive green with seaweed accents, then painted the nondescript interior hallway that leads to his bedroom in a trio of bold stripes in kraft paper hues.
New French doors on either side of his living room fireplace open onto the frontyard, now enclosed for privacy, graced with a koi pond and replanted with Pride of Madeira, agave and rosemary.
Though the designer confesses that his desk at work is often "controlled chaos," he prefers to come home to a relaxed, "organized look."
"People sometimes get the impression I have an obsessive, neatnik personality," Herrington says with a laugh. "I'm a Gemini and have two sides. At home, my good side comes through."
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