When actor Steve Martin bought a Beverly Hills house for $3 million, he opened the door to a new role for Corbin Bernsen and his wife, Amanda Pays.
Bernsen had been known for his longtime role as divorce attorney Arnie Becker on the hit TV series "L.A. Law." Pays, from England, had guest-starred on several TV shows.
Both remain active in show biz: He has recurring roles on "The West Wing" and "JAG"; she has been on "It's Like, You Know," "Martial Law" and "7th Heaven."
But now the two also have a passion for renovating and selling houses.
It's a mania that started in 1995 when they sold Martin a 10,000-square-foot Country English home they had refurbished and that Pays had partly furnished.
"That was the beginning," she acknowledged.
Since then, the couple has redesigned and sold a number of their homes, including a 17th century estate on 40 acres in England, which they spent a year renovating while living there.
"We enjoy contemporizing old houses," she said.
Among their current projects is their four-bedroom, 3,200-square-foot home built in 1949 in Sherman Oaks. It just went into escrow at its full asking price of $950,000.
Pays also just launched her first spec-home project with her husband's carpenter-contractor brother, Collin Bernsen. "We renovated a 1940s, Spanish-style house in North Hollywood that hadn't been touched in years," she said. "It had bars on the windows, smoke stains on the ceilings and it was covered with foliage, but I felt it had potential."
Now that the work is done, the two-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot house will go on the market July 20 at $649,000.
Pays also has a TV show on home design in development. Called "At Home With Amanda Pays," the show may motivate people to redesign their homes themselves.
"It doesn't cost a lot to give a house some style," Pays said, calling attention to the tiles in one of the bathrooms of her Sherman Oaks home.
"These tiles are white and clean, the cheapest you can get, but it's the [decorative] way they're applied that makes the difference."
A walk through the house reveals other design ideas she and Bernsen have used in their renovations.
Over the years, the doorknobs had been replaced. The couple recognized the quality of doorknobs crafted about the time the house was built and bought 40 of them at a hardware store. "I decided to paint the dining room library-red," she said, "and since we painted, we've had more interesting dinner conversations." Library-red is an English favorite that was popular at the turn of the 20th century.
In the kitchen, they updated the colors, she said, to muddy grays and greens. They also installed a stainless-steel sink, a slate floor and a cafe-type booth for breakfast and lunch with storage under the seats.
"My husband is a Virgo, so he likes things organized," she said. "I'm a Gemini, so I go with the flow."
Although they had the refrigerator recessed into the wall, the room was not re-configured.
"The bones were there," she observed.
They turned a maid's room into an office for Bernsen and his collection of tin toys, and they used part of the garage for a TV-playroom.
"When you have four boys, you need a room where you can close the door," Pays said. Pays, 41, and Bernsen, 46, have twin boys and two other sons, ranging in age from 3 to 12.
The house is child-proofed, but it does have tile, wood and slate floors.
"If you raise children with hard floors, they learn quickly that they'll hurt themselves if they fall down. Children of designers must adapt," she said. They added overhead lights throughout the house for continuity. "With a redesign, it is especially important to unify the house," she said.
This was also achieved by using the same slate-gray tiles on the bath floors as were used on the kitchen floor. Pays and Bernsen then put greenish-gray deck paint on all of the wooden floors, which originally had been carpeted. "We mix our own colors," she said.
Covering the floor with paint might be inadvisable if the floor was made of high-quality oak. "But this is regular strip flooring," she said. "It's not uncommon. So we could find a way to make it look different. Painting it black would be great too."
They painted the living-room cabinets, which Bernsen's brother built, a light green. He also built a closet off the master bathroom, and French doors were installed in the bedroom leading to the pool.
Pays and Bernsen added a window in the master bath and had a window frame made to match the rest of the window frames in the house. It was another way of unifying the house, she pointed out.
As for the windows themselves, she said, "I don't need fussy coverings."
Pays says she is not attached to things, which is just as well since many buyers of her homes have wanted some or all of the furnishings.
"Many people want a whole package," she said. "I'm happy to sell my furniture and move on. And until we find our ultimate house, we'll do that every few years."
Now that the children are mostly school-age, she has her eye on another house in the same area.
"The house I have in mind has a huge backyard," she said. "That's important for our boys."
Landscaping is also important to Pays and Bernsen. He is landscaping the North Hollywood spec home, and they worked together on the landscaping in Sherman Oaks.
"We took all of the eucalyptus trees down and added other trees and grass to make a larger garden," she said.
She and Bernsen share a love of architecture, old and new.
Aside from renovations, Bernsen has had a hankering to build 30 to 40 affordable homes using the highest technology.
"Yet, restoring homes is great," he said, "because so many fine, old houses are being torn down."
Many buyers think it will cost a lot more than it does to update a house, Pays noted, "and so they knock the old house down. We love finding old, unique properties."