Personal Space : Artist Myrella Moses of Newport Beach Puts Herself Into Her Decorating Till She's in the Comfort Zone

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Myrella Moses dreams up free-spirited touches such as zebra stripes on the bathroom countertop and a sweeping red tent above the bed, she isn't breaking the rules so much as simply ignoring them.

"This house is really a testament to freedom," Moses says of the Newport Beach townhouse she shares with jazz musician Eric Mondrian.

"I don't need a lot of furniture and a lot of material things. I just wanted the house to be a happy place that's comfortable with a lot of colors coming at you," she says.

Using her artist's eye for materials and colors, Moses has transformed the 2,000-square-foot townhouse from predictable into unexpected.

And spent very little money.

The touches are everywhere, from the kitchen cabinet doors--all painted different colors--to the black-and-white cotton throw that can be used as a curtain to separate the entry and the living room.

"Everything in this house is something I did on a budget without making a big production of it," she said. "I didn't want it to be involved and expensive."

She keeps her eyes open for castoffs or bargains that can be transformed into what she needs.

"The bargain-hunting thing with me is to find items that give me a little kick or thrill. For example, this (metal) chair was really uncomfortable, but covering it with a zebra-patterned comforter made it really nice. I just tied it together underneath."

Another inexpensive slipcover: a cotton dropcloth from a paint store that she folded around one of the few pieces of furniture in the house, a love seat. "It's put together with safety pins that I can easily undo when I throw it in the wash."

In the small dinette, Moses covered the chair cushions with zebra-striped sheets and used bright, multicolored cotton rug runners sewn together to upholster the chair backs.

The juxtaposition of primitive and modern is found throughout the house, which looks out over the Back Bay--home to many migratory birds and a beautiful backdrop for the relaxed decor.

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Throughout the house hang Moses' large artworks, primarily done in earth tones.

"I collect sand and use it as a metaphor in my art since we all have different colors and textures and so does sand," she said. "I have almost 100 samples from all over the world."

Moses cites the influence of her parents in her approach to art and her surroundings.

"I grew up in a family of artists in Berlin," said Moses, who was born in Germany. "My stepfather was always collecting things for sculptures, and, since my mother grew up in Berlin during the war, she knew how to make do," said Moses, who moved here in 1980 when she married.

"I was 21 when I moved to Orange County, and I loved the freedom and the sun," Moses said.

"My friends in Berlin tell me that after the wall came down there, the atmosphere changed a whole lot. What I miss in Berlin are the diversity of government-supported cultural projects. Here it has to make money or it's of no value."

There is no one culture represented in the house--rather there is a joyous combination of them.

The townhouse was once decorated in a much more traditional fashion. But, when her marriage ended, Moses was also ready for a new environment. Gone are the crystal and standard furnishings. In the years since, she has really explored her artistic side, she said, and Mondrian has been an important influence in her work.

The first room Moses redid in the house was a downstairs powder room flooded when tree roots got wrapped around the plumbing.

"I decided that I might as well start over, so I re-textured the walls, put tiles down on the floor and painted the counter in a zebra pattern. I just used acrylic paint, but it's been five years, and it still looks great."

Adding further drama to the room is an enlarged photograph of an African warrior and Moses' artwork.

Adjacent to the living room, in what could be a formal dining room, is an exercise area. The large black-and-white art connects it to rest of the house. The workout equipment seems to fit right in. Among the pieces is an exercise step Moses constructed using wood scraps, with a piece of leather on top to keep her feet from slipping. "You can put a bright pillow on it, and it instantly becomes a seat," she adds.

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Moses's bedroom is probably the most imaginative blend of styles in the house.

Fabric is draped from the ceiling to form a rich tenting over the bed.

"I bought the bolt of fabric that makes the bed's canopy at a Christmas sale at a warehouse," she said. "The gold beads hanging from it were bought there too."

The mattress, which sits on the floor in the center of the room, is covered with German bedding in bright yellows.

Colorful, African-inspired jewelry that Moses designed hangs on one wall. When the room is dark, the ceiling comes alive with little silver stars and planets that Moses glued there.

"In my next life, I want nothing but rugs and pillows on the floor," Moses said. "I like a pillowy bed."

Moses took the doors off the closets and replaced them with white cotton fabric on shower rings so she can fling them open quickly. Even her clothes are part of the decor. "I just wear black pants with colored tops, so they all look pretty hanging there."

In contrast, Mondrian keeps his bedroom sparse. There is a mattress on the floor, a computer and a chair where he sits when he plays his trumpet. The only color in the room is a blue bedspread. It's a place, he said, that he feels comfortable in playing his music at all hours of the night.

"We respect each other's identity," Mondrian said. "We try to be true to ourselves."

Moses and Mondrian are both committed to pursuing their art forms. To help make ends meet, they do a variety of jobs and ventures. Among them is a home publishing business, Mylo Productions. Moses makes jewelry and curates art shows; Mondrian, who has an engineering background, plays music gigs and works on his computer.

Having separate bedrooms is something they have found helps them maintain their individuality.

"I think you can express yourself totally by having your own bedroom," Moses said.

"I like to read my books at night, and Eric likes to practice his music. We've managed to create an environment that lets us both express ourselves. We just visit each other a lot."

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