Home Improvement : Old and New ‘Collide’ in 1920s ‘Beach House’ : Traditional Italian Exterior Hides Modern Floor Plan, Artful Neon Interior Lighting

Times Staff Writer

The home on Palisades Avenue in Santa Monica doesn’t look like a beach house and it doesn’t look remodeled. That suits owners Scott Siegler, a television executive, and his actress wife, Dorothy Fielding, just fine.

The exterior of the 1927-vintage house remains unchanged from the period when many houses like it served as summer homes.

This particular house was built by a Midwestern manufacturer as his primary residence, but in those less hectic and non-air-conditioned times, many a prosperous Pasadena/San Marino area family had a second house near the beach in Santa Monica, Newport Beach or Laguna Beach where they could escape the summer heat on weekends and vacations.

Siegler and Fielding purchased the Italian Renaissance-style house about five years ago, attracted by its location, its double lot and the generally sound condition of the once handsome structure.


‘All I Saw Was a Ruin’

Siegler was more doubtful about the purchase than his wife, who envisioned a solid structural underpinning for a contemporary open-plan interior.

“The house had been on the market for about a year, listed at about $450,000, with no takers, in a prime area of Santa Monica,” Siegler said.

“I have to admit that while all I saw was a ruin of a tear-down, Dorothy visualized the house that we have now: a traditional exterior combined with a knock-your-eyes-out contemporary interior.”


“We like the collision--the very European contrast--between the old--the exterior--and the new--the interior,” he said, adding that in Italy, particularly, he has seen many traditional houses with contemporary interiors.

As was customary for houses of the period, it is framed in redwood, a singularly rot- and termite-resistant wood, and was structurally sound, according to Venice architect R. Mark Fuote, who supervised the extensive first-floor remodeling.

Condition of Framing

“We literally gutted the house to the studs,” Fuote said. “All the walls were checked for straightness and were realigned, and we bolted the house to the foundation--something the original builder had neglected to do.”

The architect said the choice of tearing down or working with the existing structure depends on the condition of the framing. In the Siegler/Fielding house, the framing was sound. In other cases, the house must be torn down and replaced with a new one designed to fit into the neighborhood.

Gutting was necessary because the lath-and-plaster interior was cracked and because the asbestos heating ducts had to be removed, Fuote said. His design called for opening up the first-floor plan--the second floor is to be remodeled in a future phase--keeping the foyer, living room and dining room in the same position but opening up the rear of the house.

In keeping with the design ideas of the period, the original builders had created a hodgepodge of small rooms--kitchen, breakfast area and pantries--in the rear of the house.

Highly Visible Element


A structural steel beam was required to support the second floor once the load-bearing walls in the rear of the house were removed. The beam and its supporting columns go right through the middle of the kitchen and were too big to cover up, so Fuote designed them to be highly visible interior architectural elements.

To reinforce this effect, the triangular motifs of the beams were repeated in the doors of the custom-built kitchen cabinets. The frameless cabinets were custom built by Mike Beaman of N & B Cabinets, Santa Fe Springs, and feature 17 coats of white lacquer on the outside and black Melamine on the inside.

The color scheme of black on white was continued throughout the kitchen, with the exposed joists painted white and a custom-made white leather dining banquette with a black granite round table top providing transition from the kitchen to the family room. The granite matches the kitchen counter surfaces.

Even the kitchen floors got the black/white treatment: The hardwood floors were bleached and stained white and were routed out on a grid system, with strips of black plastic fitted into the openings.

Low-Voltage Lighting

The black/white kitchen color scheme includes German-made AEG appliances--dishwasher, stacked ovens and cooktop--in white with black accents. The refrigerator is a Sub-Zero, with door panels that match the cabinets.

The kitchen lighting is a low-voltage system that hangs airily from the exposed joists like mobiles by Alexander Calder. It’s a collaboration of German and Japanese designers and manufacturers called Yo Yo Ha, Fuote said, and includes neon accent lighting. Exterior lighting was by Online Designs, Venice.

The powder room off the kitchen features a wall-hung Kohler toilet and a drum-shaped enameled steel--white, of course-- sink from Germany. The floor is finished in a geometric pattern after a design by artist M.C. Escher.


The owners plan to take a financial and emotional breather for a year or so before continuing their make-over of the house, Siegler said.

“I just want to sit after a long day at work, playing with the red and blue neon accent lighting and savoring the house,” he said.


Location: Palisades Avenue, east of Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica.

Approx. size: 3,500 sq. ft., five bedrooms.

Lot Size: 100 x 170 ft.

Architect for Remodeling: Arkineto Architects (R.Mark Fuote), Venice.

General Contractor: Beverly Hills Construction, Beverly Hills

Approx. Remodeling Budget: $150,000.