Geek goes glam
WITH just a touch, Ned the Pie Maker, the hero of the new ABC fantasy-comedy “Pushing Daisies,” can make rotten fruit turn ripe and bring the dead back to life. The show’s 38-year-old creator, Bryan Fuller, does not enjoy such instant gratification. In 2000, he bought and began renovating a place he calls “the boathouse.” High in the Silver Lake hills, the three-story 1905 structure seems to levitate above the turquoise reservoir. Only the western vista of tiled roofs and the distant Hollywood sign give away its location.
Fuller has since been trying to do for his first home what Ned can do so easily: restore life. Initially, the comic-book fan and sci-fi aficionado treated it like a playhouse -- the kind of place where, says friend Barry Sonnenfeld, who directed the “Pushing Daisies” pilot, you’d expect to see “too much stuff made of plastic that originated in a galaxy far, far away.” But after seven years, Fuller’s residence has evolved into an elegantly idiosyncratic home. “Bryan has gone from geek to chic,” says Betsy Burnham, the interior designer who helped guide the transformation.
FULLER, a writer- producer whose credits include “Dead Like Me,” “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Heroes,” says the house started as a funky little place with a spectacular view of the water -- “quirky and odd enough to feel like my home and a great template to do something fun with.” The problem: too much fun and not enough focus.
“Tin windup robots and plastic action figures were occupying the same space as an entertaining area,” he says. “There were lots of toys in the living room.”
Some survived exile to Fuller’s cluttered office on the lower level. Woof Woof, a werewolf doll that TV’s Eddie Munster carried as a teddy bear, sits on a stack of Edgar Allan Poe books on a bamboo media cabinet in the bedroom.
“Bryan had his own style, a dark whimsy, but it was more like a boy lives here,” Burnham says. Relocating his extensive collection of toys to custom-built shelves in his office, she adds, “was not a slap on the wrist. It was just time.”
Fuller, who dresses in English-tailored tweed vests, candy-colored Paul Smith shirts and Prada shoes, agrees.
“I was still in the transition space between apartment living and home owning,” he says. “Betsy said, ‘Why don’t you select a few toys and framed movie posters surrounded by beautiful fabrics and interesting furniture that is more grown up?’ ”
Burnham had no intention of curbing Fuller, the collector.
For proof, look no farther than the living room, where “Star Wars” light sabers are propped near the fireplace, next to a replica of the cane that vampire Barnabas Collins carried on “Dark Shadows.”
Sitting between a plantation chair trimmed in suede and nail heads and a sofa upholstered in a rich Schumacher paisley, a life-size replica of Gollum, the ghoulish creature from “The Lord of the Rings” films, looks as if it has been sentenced to a timeout.
“I understand the need to have things around,” Burnham says. “I think it’s so much more rich and layered than someone who just wants to accessorize their house.”
The designer suggested new materials and categories: precious metals, anthropological specimens, nautical objects and more traditional men’s collectibles such as barware and smoking paraphernalia.
“Betsy brought a timelessness to the style of the house,” Fuller says. “Before it was much more pop-culture specific. Now you have a taxidermy duck and a brass lighthouse cigarette holder on a campaign chest instead of a plastic Darth Vader and Jason Voorhees.”
MUCH of the decoration suggests that Fuller and Burnham have their fingers on the pulse of contemporary design: Zebra-print wallpaper and upholstery mixed with boldly colored Chinoiserie furniture, lighting and window treatments exude Hollywood Regency glamour. A menagerie of animals and bugs in bronze, bone and ceramic scream neo-Victorian eccentricity, as does a bowl filled with lifelike glass eyes.
For a dash of upscale boathouse style, the dining room sports polished nickel hardware and lighting fixtures with a nautical vibe, along with Burnham’s use of bespoke men’s shirt and suiting fabrics for curtains and upholstery.
In the master bedroom, grass-cloth walls, a sisal rug, a woven rope bed and a British Colonial ceiling fan conjure the island ambience.
“It’s definitely a tropical getaway room,” Fuller says. “If you open the curtains, you don’t know whether you will see the oceans or the jungle.”
Instead of a trendy amalgam of popular decorating styles, the rooms feel unified -- an organic outgrowth of Fuller’s tastes and, as Burnham puts it, “fearlessness when it comes to color and pattern.”
Defined by animal objects, antique Oushak and Samarkand rugs and an African beaded chair, the double-height living room has the opulence of a safari lodge.
With its fretwork dining chairs and its wallpaper and wing chairs in an Asian toile print, the Ming blue dining room is English with a Chinese accent. The mix is what one would expect from the creator of “Pushing Daisies,” a color-saturated, slightly surreal show in which characters live in Edward Gorey splendor, with interiors where “the carpet matches the wallpaper, the drapes and the comforter on the bed,” Fuller says.
His own home is a reflection of who Fuller is as a person and as a storyteller, says designer and friend Scott Roberts.
“It is ‘The Addams Family’ meets Dorian Gray: humorous, dark, romantic and unexpected,” Roberts says. “The more complicated the mixture of colors and patterns and textures, the more he loves it.”
Fuller doesn’t follow a prescribed notion of what a Hollywood producer’s home should look like, Roberts adds. “He lives in a fantastical setting worthy of one of his scripts.”
IT almost seems scripted that Fuller, the youngest of five kids raised in Clarkston, Wash., would move to Los Angeles. Growing up in a 1960s modern house built by his electrician father, young Bryan was obsessed with “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” covering his walls with posters from the productions.
Fuller enrolled in a film production program at USC with one goal in mind: “I only became a writer because I wanted to write for ‘Star Trek.’ ” At USC, he lived in a pregentrified downtown hotel, which he says “had the occasional adventure of dead bodies.” He paid for his schooling and expenses by working in a neuroscience photo lab and selling menswear at Robinsons-May.
When his “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” spec script was accepted, Fuller dropped out and began moving around Los Angeles, renting apartments in the West Adams district and Hancock Park. By chance, a friend told him about an unusual place on the top of a hill in Silver Lake. It had been the home of Harry Hay, founder of the early gay-rights group the Mattachine Society.
Fuller was besotted. He would sit on a staircase at the end of the street enjoying the view and running an interior monologue: “I accept that this house is mine, and I thank the universe for providing me with this house,” he says, with a laugh. “I use the same affirmation for finding parking spots.”
When he bought the house, every room was beige and poorly laid out. In the dining room, the 6-foot-3 writer’s head barely cleared the beams, and the kitchen was even worse. Then he met Burnham, whose husband Mark Stern was Fuller’s collaborator on the TV version of “Carrie.” Fuller had been through one set of architectural plans and, he says, “a contractor who liked to get his drink on in the morning.”
When he asked for her opinion, Burnham says she “went off on the plans.”
“They were too suburban and cute and they didn’t address the space issues,” she says.
Burnham redesigned the kitchen, reconfigured the master suite and raised the ceiling on the bathroom off a sleeping loft. Carpet was torn out and replaced by red oak floors with an ebony stain.
On a staircase barely as tall and wide as Fuller, she created a sense of airiness by painting the top landing and walls periwinkle.
For furniture, Burnham relied on classic American manufacturers such as Baker and McGuire; retailers including Restoration Hardware, Waterworks and Williams-Sonoma Home; and a long list of Los Angeles design galleries.
Fuller joined some of the local hunting and gathering expeditions, which yielded a studded folding screen from the old Bullock’s Wilshire, a reclaimed wood chandelier from Mecox Gardens on La Cienega Boulevard and a nut holder in the shape of squirrel with a crystal jar body at nearby Dragonette.
The designer and the writer logged in more than a few hours on EBay as well. Fuller shops almost daily for vintage horror and Hitchcock film posters. Burnham placed a huge Howard Miller clock bought on the auction site atop a pedestal from the budget-minded Ballard Designs catalog to create a different kind of time- table.
ON a recent Sunday, a box of Vosges chocolates sits open on that kitchen table near a decorative bowl of artichokes. Arnold, a black cat, and Bela, a Cornish Rex, curl up in each other’s arms on a wing chair covered in a Chanel-esque pink tweed. In the living room, the DVD of “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” plays on a widescreen TV. The film “has all the Universal Studios monsters except for the Invisible Man,” Fuller enthuses.
It is a kicked-back afternoon, quite the contrast from Fuller’s other gatherings, including screenings of “Friday the 13th” and “America’s Next Top Model” and his annual pumpkin-carving parties.
“His place is the house on the hill,” Roberts says, referencing the classic horror-film image. “Except the house is filled with color and laughter. He’s taken the best part of childhood -- the excitement of looking forward to Halloween, the exhilarating sensation of being afraid of the dark, and the freedom to imagine worlds and stories beyond your own experience -- and brought them into his adult life.”
Although Fuller defines home as “the place where you can actually exhale after holding your breath all day at work, running from one thing to the next,” he doesn’t necessarily want to live in a safe, serene environment.
“I want rooms that are dramatic, exotic, dense and rich. When you walk into a room, you’re given so many options of eye candy,” he says. “It’s a warm and welcoming space, but if you look closely, you might be upset by some of the things you see. I don’t want to live in normal spaces, I need to be stimulated.”
Like the main character on his new show, Fuller has learned that being in touch with who you really are and what you really love animates everything around you.
“This house was lying fallow for a long time,” he says. “Nobody had given it the love and attention that brought it back to life.”
More about the house online
Additional pictures: For an extended tour of Bryan Fuller’s house, look for the orange camera icon and “photo gallery” link with this story at latimes.com/home.
Shopping resources: To see where his furniture and other design elements came from, look for the sidebar posted with this story at latimes.com/home.