This time, the set is her own

Times Staff Writer

AS a production designer, Erin Ellwood is charged with creating an ambience that immediately tells a story and reveals characters’ personalities -- a skill she says is important at home too.

“People’s homes often don’t express them,” she says. “It’s not about the couch. Anyone can go buy seven pieces of furniture and put it in their house, but that doesn’t create a feel.” Walking through massive glass doors -- “mall doors,” she calls them -- in the open, light-filled home, Ellwood says the overall mood is what’s most important. “It’s the vibe that matters.”

High above Fountain Avenue in Franklin Hills, Ellwood’s house is a cocoon of tranquillity just a few miles from the frenetic tempo of Hollywood.

No one knows the lifestyle better than Ellwood, 51. Her mother, actress Gloria Henry, is best known as the mom on the 1959-63 TV series “Dennis the Menace,” and her late father was California Modernist Craig Ellwood, described by one biographer as “the Cary Grant of architecture.”


Inspired by the Mies van der Rohe credo “God is in the details,” Ellwood took an ordinary 1924 tract house and gave it a point of view, one of serenity, beauty and humor. She bought the house for its views and its large yard -- a rarity in the hilly neighborhood.

Joking that she had to landscape quickly to avoid seeing a neighbor skinny-dipping in a hot tub, Ellwood planted olive, cypress, pepper and plum trees that over eight years have grown to envelop her “treehouse.”

“I can see the view, and no one can see me,” she says.

Ellwood’s house is an intense indoor-outdoor experience, with industrial aluminum Fleetwood windows overlooking the tiered yard. Like the Case Study homes designed by her father, her house isn’t about curb appeal.

“He placed the importance on being inside looking out,” she says, “rather than outside looking in.”

The first floor, which is basically one open space, connects to the outdoors. She tore down walls and enclosed the home’s exterior deck, making the house feel much larger than its 1,400 square feet.

Ellwood painted the exterior and the interior front of the house the same color -- an earthy seaweed -- to create a cohesive feel between inside and out. “There’s no great architecture here,” she says. “Sometimes it’s more about making things disappear than drawing attention to them.”

It’s easy enough to find well-designed furnishings these days. To Ellwood, though, design is more about the senses, or “what you’re hearing and smelling.” Her yard has more than 20 chimes scattered throughout the trees. A fountain adds the soothing melody of running water. Rosemary, lavender, lemon verbena, star jasmine and rose-scented geraniums create an aromatic entrance.

Together, the details merge to create the right ambience for 3 1/2 -year-old daughter Amelie, dogs Willie and Stella, not to mention herself.

Here, Ellwood explains how she created a home that reveals her character.