The couch was what got them started. It looked like something out of the 1960s, a sleek, angular sofa covered in cream-colored chenille with orange lumbar pillows. Ron Galperin and his partner, Zachary Shapiro, knew they had found the perfect piece of furniture for their newly remodeled Beverly Hills residence: contemporary but warmed by a splash of color as bright as a Chinese amulet. After that, everything else fell into place.
"I always saw a relationship between modern architecture and design and Asian architecture and design," said Galperin, a real estate attorney. "I wanted to accentuate that and bring the two of them together more strongly."
Thus emerged the radiant style the couple refers to as "mid-century mandarin."
Two years ago, Galperin and Shapiro, an associate rabbi at University Synagogue in Brentwood, were house-hunting on the Westside when they saw a 1960s house off Coldwater Canyon Drive. The outside of the structure was beautiful, but the inside looked like a dank English manor, with grimy white carpeting, boldly flowered wallpaper and cottage-cheese-covered ceiling. No one had shown interest in buying the place — except Galperin and Shapiro.
"It was a diamond in the rough," said Galperin, 40. "The house was well done when it was built; it just needed to be brought back to life." He asked a friend, architect Bruce Tucker, to help overhaul the interior, "to open it up."
They knocked down walls and tore out sliding glass doors. An enclosed porch was turned into a sunroom, with a ceiling of windows. The kitchen was expanded to include a breakfast bar. Doors were widened to let light into narrow hallways. Wood floors, stained deep brown, were laid throughout the 3,000-square-foot house. Heavy blinds were taken off the windows. Finally, after nine months of work, the empty house started to look like a contemporary glass pavilion, bathed in light.
"It was transformed," Shapiro said. "It just blew my mind."
With the dust finally settled, Galperin went to work decorating. "I had been thinking a lot about orange," he said. "I had seen a lot of it in stores. I thought to myself, 'I really love this color. It just makes me happy.' " Then, while browsing at the Rapport International Home Furniture Store on La Brea, Galperin spotted the creamy couch with the orange pillows. "I wanted something angular that said early 1960s," Galperin said. "This couch just jumped out at me. I thought, 'I have to have this.' "
Next, the couple bought a contemporary rug accented with a giant orange circle to match the couch, which they placed with two plush brown chairs and a coffee table from Plummers, all previous acquisitions. "I wanted each room to have a little bit of modern, each room to have a little bit of orange, each room to have a little bit of Asian," said Galperin. "That was my guide."
It was like a treasure hunt. Galperin consulted Shapiro on the purchases. Shapiro, in turn, gave Galperin free rein to create a new living space from scratch.
In his spare time, Galperin scoured stores, flea markets and even garages of family members, looking for items that caught his eye. He found two contemporary orange lamps at Carla, a store that specializes in 1950s and 1960s furnishings; a set of Asian lacquer serving trays at Japanache on Robertson Boulevard; an old steel end table in his parents' garage. His sister gave him several hand-tinted photographs she created to hang over the couch.
He went on excursions to Pasadena and Alhambra, where he discovered cavernous warehouses full of Asian antiques, some still in shipping containers from China. He brought home curved chairs, lacquered cabinets and painted tea sets that had pictures of geishas imprinted in the bottoms of the cups.
With key pieces in place, the couple needed to choose colors for the walls. The process was arduous. "I didn't know there was more than one shade of off-white," Shapiro said. "We spent days trying to figure it out," Galperin added.
Galperin suggested bright white for the vaulted ceilings and most of the walls. But he also wanted some accent color. He brought home stacks of sample cards and tubs of paint, brushing a patchwork pattern on the walls to see how the hues looked in the light. "We wanted colors that accentuated the relationship between the inside and the outside," he said. "We were looking for certain earth tones and green tones."
Finally, a wall behind the couch was painted mushroom brown. A wall in the dining room was painted sage green. A narrow wall near the staircase was painted orange. And Galperin had the "punches of color" he was after.
At IKEA, he bought colorful circular rugs, which he arranged in a polka-dot pattern in the house's entryway. "I think they were $9.99 each," Galperin said. "I bought a whole bunch of them. They're really fun. Instead of buying just one carpet, we can play with these and change the look. The idea is to mix things up."
The couple found inspiration in the art of the unexpected. "We wanted something that was not too serious and too prim and proper," Galperin said. "A lot of people think modernism is really cold and harsh. It doesn't have to be that way. It can be very thoughtful."
In the living room, Galperin placed an arrangement of giant silk daisies in a corner. "It's just a touch of kitsch," he said. In the kitchen, neon-colored mouse pads were arranged as wall art. "I bought them at the gift store at MOCA in downtown. They're a few dollars each and all you need is one nail." He put iridescent CDs, found at a design store in Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, in a large plastic CD storage sleeve and hung it on a wall in the hallway. He stuffed a bright shower cap with white tissue paper and nailed it to a wall in the guest bathroom. "What can I say? You can't get any cheaper art," said Galperin.
Every room in the house has something orange: a fleece blanket from IKEA draped over a couch in the downstairs library, wall lanterns covered with orange rice paper in the dining room, an orange chair in the bathroom, orange door knobs on plain closet doors in the bedroom. "It's funny how you can become obsessed with a color," Galperin said.
Shocks of color and sprightly art were not the only things surprising about the space. While working on the plumbing during the renovation, a work crew punched through the floor to find a hidden room under the house. "It looked like the Batcave," Galperin said. The area was excavated and cleaned up. "We thought, 'Well, let's build another bathroom.' " The room, tiled in a mosaic of gray, is an ode to luxury. A Jacuzzi tub, placed under a large window, takes center stage. There's a shower complete with a sauna.
Galperin and Shapiro found that the improvements made the house very "Zen." The sunroom, just steps from the main entryway, is their favorite area in the house. "The creation of that space has made the house what it is," Shapiro said. "It has brightened up the house in ways it never was before."
Galperin sees the house as more of a loft. "I love the way the rooms flow together. It's not compartmentalized." The sunroom blends into a large, bright kitchen, which leads to a hallway into a dining room with two walls of windows.
The décor in the dining room is yet another example of Galperin's resourcefulness. A grouping of white paper lanterns from IKEA, adapted to a plain, existing fixture, serves as a makeshift chandelier. Simple lacquered shelves, another IKEA find, create a display area for the couple's collection of tea sets from China and Japan. Twelve curved black chairs, $49 reproductions of the Arne Jacobsen standard, are set around a long beech-veneered table.
The garden just outside the room was re-landscaped from English cottage style to Asian — bamboo, low-growing shrubs, rocks and a mature pine tree trimmed to resemble a bonsai. A web of flagstone slabs, linked together with grass, surrounds the pool.
At night, the window-encased house shines like a glass box atop the hillside. Neighbors are constantly asking the couple what they spend on electricity each month. "It's not as much as you would think," Galperin said coyly.
In all, the renovation took about a year to complete. "There were times during the remodeling process where I thought, 'What did we get ourselves into?' " Galperin said. "But now that it's done, it's great. One thing led to another, which led to another. We don't regret any of it."
Their mid-century mandarin, said Shapiro, is "a pleasure to live in, a meditative place to relax and just be."