The palette at play

Special to The Times

The project, a sprawling five-house compound high in the Topanga hills, would require a serious vision to transform it from a half-baked hippie holdover into a cohesive family retreat. So the young couple hired interior designers Alison Blumenfeld and Marjorie Skouras to bring together the whole uncoordinated mess — a 1,000-square-foot contemporary main residence, a pair of wood-shingled guest pads, an elongated pool house with narrow, unfocused rooms and an ugly duckling of a shed relegated to the far edge of the property.

For half-sisters Blumenfeld and Skouras, their first assignment as a design team came with enough hurdles to trip even the most seasoned professionals.

Blumenfeld, who gave up her career as an art director at Esprit clothing to decorate homes and design furniture, says the looming question, the big challenge, was how to take all the elements and "somehow make it chic."

The answer? The color green. Lots of it. From lime to mint, jade to chartreuse, from the screaming green picnic table in the pool house to a profusion of sage-colored outdoor cushions scattered throughout, green not only linked the interiors to large vistas of grass, but also resolved conflicts between architectural confusion and stylistic tensions.

"The solution was to marry clean-lined, contemporary furniture with more traditional accents. Green was the through line," says Skouras, who left the movie business after 17 years to follow in the footsteps of her mother, Patti Skouras.

Starting with a jade-toned Dualit toaster in the main house, Skouras and Blumenfeld swathed the entire kitchen in the same color, then extended it into the open dining room where they introduced periwinkle into the mix. The country-meets-modern requirement included such touches as pairing industrial-style Philippe Starck chairs with green-and-blue plaid slipcovers.

In the living room, green retreats to cool mint walls, letting a muted sapphire blue take the starring role, with occasional cameos from fuchsia.

The designers used almost 100 yards of blue Ultrasuede, drawn to its rich color and durability. "It's bulletproof," says Skouras. "It can take all the dogs, kids and guests that use the house." The client had asked for toile fabrics throughout, a request that Skouras and Blumenfeld partially granted with a more abstract version of the bucolic French fabric used on throw pillows in the common areas.

But a hankering for traditional toile de Jouy, with its fair maidens and harp-holding cherubs, was still high on the clients' list. So how to turn a quaint bed-and-breakfast material into a style statement? The trick was using the fabric with abandon, not as an accent.

To that end, Skouras and Blumenfeld used it as if it were the latest mod textile from Lulu DK, covering almost every surface in the master bedroom with it.

With their duties fulfilled, Skouras and Blumenfeld were free to focus on what they instinctively knew to be their strong points: more color and lots of whimsy. They share a generalized aversion to the beige-on-beige approach to decorating, what Blumenfeld refers to as "tragically tasteful design." Instead, they would rather err on the side of making that screaming green picnic table a little too loud than underwhelm with studied restraint.

And the project turned out to provide the perfect palette for such playfulness. They turned the forlorn shed into a children's playroom where hopscotch and Twister are designed into colorful linoleum floors. In the pool house dining room, thousands of the clients' Pez candy dispensers are displayed on custom-built shelves. The final effect is more art installation than campy collection.

Since completing the house last year, they have 12 new residential clients, but their approach remains as open as ever. "At this stage we're not chosen for a specific style," says Skouras. "And we think it would be much more fun if that never happened."

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