An Insider's Look at L.A. Interiors : Getty Museum, Gamble House and Others Offer Visitors a Historical 'Sense of Place'


A great interior has unique personality and charm. It is so unique unto itself that it offers visitors a distinct sense of place. --Daryl de Falla President, American Society of Interior Designers, Los Angeles Chapter And you thought an interior was a place inside a place? Next time that Southern California weather turns too 1) hot, 2) cold, 3) wet, 4) sunny, 5) foggy or 6) smoggy--or any combination thereof--consider exploring some of L.A.'s Great Indoors.

Rex Il Ristorante: 617 S. Olive St., Los Angeles.

Sixty years ago at this site, Alexander & Oviatt department store was an exclusive men's haberdashery where John Barrymore, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and the like purchased shirts. Its two-story main floor radiated masculinity: colors were dark, columns and paneling were sculpted in oak. A deep-hued staircase rose to a grand mezzanine which elegantly encircled the room.

Today, the former shop has been transformed into a plush eatery modeled after the dining salon of the Italian luxury liner, Rex. The clothing store's deep masculine colors have been softened to grays and mauves. Its hand-carved cabinets, which once held shirts, now display bottles of wine.

Despite the radical change from clothing to cuisine, the building's first-floor interior still exudes a sumptuous elegance of the long ago past. Rex's small triangular tables and sexy low lighting--emanating from original Art Deco Lalique glass fixtures--encourage intimate, exciting dinners.

Kate Mantilini's: 9101 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills.

"Big, exquisite . . . and self-consciously plebeian," says John Dixon, editor of Progressive Architecture, of this Wilshire-at-Doheny landmark.

This unusual Brobdinagian restaurant was once a nondescript 1950s bank building until owner Marilyn Lewis hired the avant-garde architectural firm, Morphosis, to transform it into "a roadside steakhouse for the future, with a clock."

A 6,400-square-foot Miesian environment was concocted to attract a cross section of society, and offer a whimsical, energetic dining atmosphere. Kate's interior is flooded with light from a 14-foot-diameter oculus poked in the restaurant's ceiling, and from a huge bank of windows facing Wilshire. Twenty-two tables line the restaurant's battered walls where bank depositors once balanced checkbooks.

Dutifully positioned at the oculus' center is the requested "clock"--a huge orrery, a mechanical device used by astronomers to simulate the movement of solar system bodies.

The pre-World War II fight promoter and mistress of Lewis' uncle--Kate Mantilini--is featured in a bold mural above the restaurant's long bar and kitchen area. Nearby is a boxing mural by John Wehrle of the Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns 1985 championship fight in Las Vegas.

J. Paul Getty Museum: 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. (Admission is free, but advance parking reservations required. (310) 458-2003.)

J. Paul Getty refused to build a "tinted-glass and stainless steel monstrosity" or "one of those concrete bunker-type structures that are the fad among museum architects" when he sought shelter for his enviable collection of ancient Roman and Greek art. Instead, he invested $16 million to re-create a Roman villa--the Villa dei Papiri of Herculaneum--which was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79.

The museum's main vestibule, located between two lush peristyle gardens, is a spatial replica of the Villa dei Papiri's triclinium, or dining room. Its design, color scheme and materials are copied from original villas discovered by archeologists in Herculaneum and Pompeii.

The delicately patterned floors and walls are laid with four types of colored marble: wine-colored porphyry from Egypt, dark green porphyry from Sparta, white pavonazzetto from Phrygia and yellowish-pink giallo antico from Tunisia.

The recessed ceiling sports illusionistic vine motifs, embellished with putti, birds, flowers, fruit and musical instruments.

Throughout the sprawling grounds, classical aestheticism is intelligently expressed. The museum's white-marbled Corinthian columns, placid pools, robust bronze statues and verdant geometric gardens evoke visions of ancient Rome's la dolce vita --two millennia later.

The Gamble House: 4 Westmoreland Place, Pasadena.

This legendary Southern California landmark is considered the internationally recognized masterpiece of the Arts and Crafts movement in the United States.

Built for David and Mary Gamble (of Procter and Gamble) in 1908, the magnificent home was designed to reflect the beauty of nature. It is a paean to skilled craftsmanship; every joist, peg, oak wedge, beam and switch plate contributes to an overall design statement of symmetry and simplicity.

Inside the house's iridescent glass doors is a rich symphony of teak, maple, cedar, redwood, mahogany and oak, all shined to a deep satin finish. Redwood friezes, leaded art glass windows, teak banisters, Oriental carpets and Tiffany lamps contribute to the hand-crafted vista, which remains unrivaled to this day.

"I think it's one of the great residences of this century," says Architectural Digest editor Paige Rense. "It speaks to people . . . because it is so strong, honest and direct. There's not a thing grand or pretentious about it."

I. Magnin Bullocks Wilshire: 3050 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.

When it opened in 1929 one month before the Stock Market crashed, the store then known as Bullocks Wilshire was heralded as a "monument to modernism."

Top designers collaborated to create whirlwind expanses of Deco-esque landscapes at the emporium, where each department was designed in a different motif to match its wares:

* The Menswear Department, for example, radiates robust masculinity; its massive walls are sculpted from Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired concrete blocks.

* The nearby Perfume Hall is a contrast in feminine pulchritude--delicately clad in rose marbled walls and bathed in incandescent light.

* Decorated with exotic woods, silver, gold leaf and sparkling mirrors, the Sportswear Department emanates vibrancy. An avant-garde mural, "The Spirit of Sports" by Serbian artist Gjura Stojano, is etched on its wall, adding to the room's energetic feel.

* Upstairs, the Finer Apparel Shop reflects Louis XVI opulence. It is purportedly modeled after Marie Antoinette's boudoir.

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