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INTERIOR MOTIVES : Now More Than Ever, Professional Decor Is a Strategic Part of Living Well

INTERIOR DESIGN, once considered the province of the elite, is now a service used by more Americans than ever. Perhaps because of a new value system that makes home life a top priority, “consumers are applying more of their discretionary income to the design of their residences,” says Stephen Stoner, past president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). He cites an association survey conducted last May indicating “a growing perception of design as a key service rather than a luxury.”

Young professionals--married or single--and older men and women whose children have left home now make up most of the market for designers’ services. A full 81% of the designers polled report that young, married working people represent most of their clientele. “Young, busy professionals have expendable income, but they do not have the time to stop and create their images of hearth and home,” says Bret Parsons, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the ASID. “A designer can steer clients away from expensive mistakes and get a very satisfactory job done faster.”

A key trend this year is home design that reflects the client, not the designer. Top designers are now de-emphasizing “trademark” looks. Sherman Oaks-based designer Jarrett Hedborg says: “My clients want me to interpret what they like and pull it all together my way. I maintain close relationships with my clients because I have a sympathetic imagination, not a definable style. I don’t think style means Southwest, country, contemporary, English or any particular mode of decoration. If clients really respond to something visually, I can make it work for them.”

It is an idea echoed by L.A. designer Barbara Barry: “You should really listen to what clients tell you about themselves, know their likes and dislikes. People who hire me are buying my sense of style, not a look.”

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Another trend is the emphasis on design and remodeling of living rooms, family rooms, kitchens and bathrooms--the so-called public areas. Stoner says this reflects a relatively new consumer preference for at-home entertaining, “far from the stresses of everyday life.”

Designer Luis Ortega is sensitive to the need for homes that serve a variety of functions, including self-expression. “Designing someone’s home is a long process, and it’s important to maintain a rapport,” he says. “A designer has to be one-third psychologist, one-third best friend and one-third diplomat. The give-and-take relationship between client and designer is important to the end result.”

Following is a look at three of Southern California’s most creative interior designers.

Contemporary Classicism

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FOR BARBARA BARRY of Los Angeles, interior design begins with color. The designer, who describes her style as a “contemporary approach to classicism,” hails from a family of painters. “Each room must be a composition, well balanced in every aspect,” she says. She works like a fine artist to compose a room in a style that is a mixture of contrasts: She will juxtapose a 1920s French ironwork console against a contemporary-looking, unadorned white wall, or she will use a modern, European paper chandelier in a room with an antique mirror.

Barry admits that she had to paint the walls of her dining room in a grand Carthay Circle duplex three times before she hit on the exact shade she envisioned. “Talcum-powder pink,” she laughs. “It took me a few tries to get it, I’ll admit. I used to be embarrassed if I couldn’t hit a color right off, but now I show up at a client’s house with four gallons of paint and say: ‘We’re going to paint it until we get it right.’ ”

Barry surrounds herself and her clients--she recently completed actress Molly Ringwald’s home--with fresh flowers, snow-white linens, elegant art books, collectible photographs, architectural drawings and handsome--but, in truth, not-so-very-old--antiques. “My home is experimental, my testing ground. I often buy a piece of furniture that I just can’t resist, take it home, move it around for months. I’m constantly creating still-life vignettes.”

To Barry, who is 36, no room in her home is ever “complete.” For clients, however, she puts the finishing touches on everything. “I deliver a total concept--from the initial renderings down to soap and scent-lined drawers in the bathroom, but I like the end result to appear as if it happened over a period of time, like a great collection.

“I really listen to clients,” she continues. “I don’t try to change them. I like to give them what they want, reinforcing their likes, but I do it with my input and sense of style. By doing this, no two projects ever look the same--they don’t have a signature look.”

Barry does, however, tend to shop at the same Pacific Design Center showrooms: Donghia for upholsteries, because “they’re basically sculpture in themselves, perfect from front, side and back,” and Rose Tarlow for traditional and wacky: “She’s not afraid of having everything perfect.” And Barry favors the tables at Randolph & Hein.

“I’m always trying to bring out the sense of person with my clients,” she says. “They’ll have inherited furniture and want to throw it out, or they’ll want to decorate in Southwest, and I’ll say, ‘Let’s not do that. Let’s find something more long-term.’

“The small things that surround you during your lifetime can be very important. You can drive a BMW or wear Anne Klein, but in your home, you’re affected by the doorknob you turn when you come home, the down sofa you sit in to drink a glass of wine, the sheets you sleep on at night. My philosophy is to buy well. It will serve you better in the long run.”

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The Architectural Approach

A GRADUATE OF USC’s School of Architecture, Cuban-born designer Luis Ortega has chosen not to practice architecture, “but it has been a tremendous help with my development as a designer. I do a lot of architectural design in my work,” he says.

True to his architectural background, Ortega favors an uncluttered environment: “clean, not fussy.” His Spanish-style home near Farmer’s Market has high ceilings and rounded plaster arches reminiscent of homes in Latin America.

He emphasizes a practical reason for the spare approach: It is most suitable for displaying art, such as the striking Rupert Garcia painting in his dining room.

“Most of my clients who don’t already collect good art are interested in starting a collection,” he says. “Uncluttered environments are essential for this.”

Ortega’s furniture also is simple: sofas upholstered in tan leather; a Le Corbusier chaise covered in black-and-white cowhide; a Le Corbusier glass-top dining table.

“I approach clients’ jobs similarly,” he says. “In my type of contemporary environments, all furnishings count. They’re carefully chosen. I never do anything merely to fill up space. I pay great attention to detail.”

Ortega, 43, was influenced by interior designers Jean-Michel Frank, Eileen Gray and Billy Baldwin. “When I was in architecture school, like many students, my heroes were Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright,” he says. “Their experimentation with simplicity has made a great impression on me. I respond to their approach of not being overly decorative.”

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When he shops at the Pacific Design Center, Ortega concentrates on the showrooms of Donghia, Randolph & Hein, Mirak, The Bradbury Collection for fabrics and, especially, Mimi London, where he finds Japanese fabric, tables and stone lamps by Ron Mann. “Mimi is experimental; she really extends herself in her own designs and in the designers she represents. She has a unique, Western attitude that I find exciting.”

Recently, Ortega completed a house for actress Rita Moreno. He also remodeled a Richard Neutra home for another client, adding unexpected touches such as a bright fuchsia wall within a starkly classic interior.

“I make no secret of the fact that my design hero today is Mexico’s Luis Barragan,” he says. “Twenty years ago, I wanted to live in a Phillip Johnson glass house. No more. I realize what I’m more comfortable with.

“As I have matured, I tend to be more in sympathy with my Latin roots,” he says. “One of the great things about living in Los Angeles is that there is a wonderful Latin connection here.”

Tropical Aesthetic

“I LIKE STUFF THAT cannot be defined,” says Jarrett Hedborg. “For me, if you can define it, it’s lost.” The designer is wearing a shirt that seems to match the pink Hawaiian print of his bedroom drapes. The floor is covered with sisal, the walls are done in raffia, and there are shells and tropical prints around the room. But there’s also a traditional family quilt and a pine-topped dresser--a mix that the designer admits is a puzzling, virtually undefinable style. “My roots are Swedish, so how about calling it classic Hawaiian-Swedish?” he asks mock-seriously.

Born in Orange County, Hedborg, 38, lives and works in Sherman Oaks, but “when I look out across the rooftops of the houses that terrace below me, I feel like I’m in Honolulu, up above Kahala.” It’s not surprising, then, that Hedborg has chosen a tropical theme as the basis of his bedroom retreat. The neutral tones of the walls and carpeting, accented with thin white stripes, are a natural background for bright fabrics--often featuring hibiscus, breadfruit and plumeria blossoms--that he buys in Honolulu. “Bright colors in Hawaii seem the logical extension of the landscape, a la Gauguin,” he explains.

His headboard is upholstered in a purple-and-gold hibiscus pattern. Hibiscus-print fabric, this time in navy and white, is made into a simple bed skirt and bedspread. Red-and-white quilted pillow shams, made in Hawaii, are layered with crisp, white, family-heirloom cases and Ralph Lauren’s oxford-cloth striped sheets. Beside the bed is an antique pine table, above which is a framed, tempera-on-paper design for a Japanese kimono. Other art depicts soft, dreamy, island scenes. In contrast with the Hawaiian theme is the pink-and-white double-wedding-ring quilt, an American classic, layered over the bedspread.

For his clients, Hedborg shops on Melrose Avenue--Richard Mulligan for country-style tables and chairs, Charles Gill for antiques, Nancy Corzine and Rose Tarlow for upholstery and Keith McCoy for fabrics. “I also have a lot of things made,” he says. “Antiques can be wonderful, but they can also sometimes stifle creativity. I like to design things that might be the antiques of tomorrow.

“I have no reservations about using Americana with Hawaiian or anything else,” he continues. “All of these things are handmade--fabrics, family linens, the quilt. To my mind, such things belong together. The handmade aspect is important to me.”

Hedborg’s clients are a star-studded group: Bette Midler, Jack Nicholson, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Bridges. “I tend to work for people who know their image and are comfortable enough with themselves that they’re not trying to make points with the outside world,” he says.

WestWeek ’89: Shapes of Furniture to Come

WHEN THE DESIGN and trade show, WestWeek ’89, opens at the Pacific Design Center on March 29, 35,000 design professionals from around the world will enter the distinctive blue and green towers to see what most of us cannot: the newest furniture from here and abroad. This year marks the return of color to upholstery fabrics, a wealth of rich wood finishes, a proliferation of neoclassical designs--some in silver and gold leaf--and a trend toward circular motifs.

In her L.A. showroom, Mimi London represents a wide range of furniture exemplifying an emerging West Coast aesthetic. Among these is San Franciscan Ron Mann’s towering, five-panel screen, made of rustic fruit-drying racks from Northern California. Though the screen looks like a Japanese country antique, it is an unusual, yet fitting, backdrop for neoclassical chairs made in Los Angeles by Alexander / Cinefro.

“Neoclassical designs, such as Biedermeier, have a basic, built-in simplicity that makes them popular today,” says Peter Alexander, who designed the Amadeus and Villa chairs in London’s showroom. Alexander updates classical motifs--circles, wreaths, ovals--with color and texture. Others producing neoclassical furniture include prominent L.A. designer Kalef Alaton and a new firm called Axis; both lines are shown at The Bradbury Collection.

Access to these new styles is restricted now to the design trade, but offices and homes will soon reflect their cutting-edge influence.


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