Domestic Twist

Michael Webb last wrote for the magazine about the stairway design at a Venice house

Only the purple front door hints at the exuberance of color and invention concealed by the prim white facade of a 1920s house in West Los Angeles. Open that door and the first thing you see is a mustard-yellow staircase. Step inside and you're greeted by a living room full of furniture a talented kid might have sketched with multi-hued crayons. Welcome to the cheerful, light-filled home of Stuart Bloomberg, co-chairman of ABC, his wife Mary Farrell, and their five children.

When the couple decided to give up their house in New York and move back to Los Angeles, they picked a neighborhood where they could walk to shops, restaurants, movies and the beach. They found a house that was ideally located, but gloomy and confined inside. They turned to Roy McMakin, whose furniture they had been collecting for 15 years. "I urged them to take it and open it up," says McMakin, who trained as an artist before branching out into architecture and interior design.

"We first met Roy soon after he opened Domestic (a showroom now located on Wilshire Boulevard)," Mary Farrell recalls. "We were living in an Arts and Crafts house and, though we didn't have much money then, we bought a few stools that were on sale. Later we asked him to remodel our kitchen, and he has since become a close friend, almost an uncle to the children."

Ten years ago, when restoring his own home--a 1917 house in Hancock Park by pioneer modernist Irving Gill--McMakin discovered that "architecture orchestrates your movements and can bring joy to everyday living." This same spirit animated his transformation of the Bloomberg-Farrell home. Most of the original structure was left unchanged, but he removed doors and moldings, and widened openings to the front living room, a snug media room, and the dining room behind. A new floor of narrow oak boards has a border that runs around the openings and ties the living areas together. McMakin enlarged the staircase and replaced a plastic skylight with a lantern that pulls natural light into a square second-floor landing that he furnished with bookcases and a table to serve as an informal work area.

A year after the living and sleeping areas were complete, the owners asked McMakin to create a spacious kitchen that would open up to the yard and replace a dark warren of unusable spaces. He and his team tore off the back third of the house and--though they respected the existing footprint, adding only a small laundry room--construction stretched out over nine months. The result justified the effort, for the new concrete-floored kitchen with its wrap-around white shelves and cabinets is luminous and serene. It doubles as a family room, with armchairs beside a hearth, sunny yellow side chairs around a maple kitchen table and easy access to a patio.

Known initially for his wood chairs and tables as plain as those made by the Shakers, but quirky enough to provoke a smile, McMakin added to the owners' collection new pieces that combine comfort and wit. Wing armchairs have short fat legs and Mickey Mouse ears, and a low cabinet is inset with the words "I LOVE U." Upholstered chairs in the media room and kitchen are supported on swivel bases. An existing maple dining table has been fattened by the addition of a white strip and wider legs down one side, and the worn side chairs have been patched with variegated leathers. Contemporary craftsmanship is set off by a Mission rocker and Arts and Crafts floor lamps.

For Farrell, the house seems like a rainbow as she passes from cool yellow walls at the front to the tropical tones of the outdoor furniture. "I use color to tie everything together," explains McMakin. "Mary and Stuart's summer house in Massachusetts has lots of blues and greens. Here that's in the plantings [which he planned with landscape designer John Alexander] and I decided that everything else should play off the warmth of Southern California."

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