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Articles / Renovations

Return to splendor

Built for a silent screen legend, this residence combines original grandeur with updated comfort

Return to splendor

Built for a silent screen legend, this residence combines original grandeur with updated comfort

Balance is a key word in a whole-house remodel – bringing out the best of the original architecture but also offering modern-day functionality.

Constructed in the 1920s, this Beverly Hills residence is the epitome of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Cary Grant and Barbara Hutton once owned the residence, and Rudolf Valentino has danced more than once on its black-and-white marble floors.

When interior designer Monique Lafia first saw the house, it had fallen on hard times. Faced with a grand, but empty shell, the designer returned it to, and accentuated, its former glory.

"Every aspect of the residence, both inside and out, was addressed," says Lafia.

"The exterior was sand blasted to create a texture. The ivory-toned paint acts as a precursor of the warm-hued interiors," says Lafia.

The metal door and window frames on the exterior had been painted white in previous years. These were given a faux walnut finish, allowing them to stand out and accentuate the arches that typify the house's Spanish Mission-style forms.

Inside, ebony hardwood accompanies black-and-white marble flooring. The dark wood floors were refinished, and the walls, previously a neutral white, were given seven coats of French plaster and an ivory underglaze.

"The ceilings were given the same treatment," Lafia says. "The ivory colors on the walls were lightened for the ceilings, to accentuate the lofty height of the rooms."

Columns in the house were given a separate treatment. A specialist painter introduced a crackled glaze. This requires an experienced hand to allow the distinctive crackling to form.

The painter who worked on the columns also restored and accentuated the original ornate dining room ceiling.

Rooms were added beyond the house proper, and a billiard room was added and connected to the existing screening room. However, much of the house remains in its original form.

"Making the house comfortable by today's standards meant addressing both the interior decoration and making the house electronically savvy," Lafia says. "We took great pains to ensure all things electronic didn't detract from the lavish settings. For example, holes were drilled in table legs to carry wiring to table lamps."

Rewiring was carried out throughout the residence, including the introduction of remote control systems for everything from the security to the swimming pool system.

The interior decoration was master-planned from the outset. Furniture layouts were an early consideration, because, says Lafia, the lighting placement and other details flow from these positionings Once the furniture layout was determined, rewiring could begin.

"We didn't want stately, awe-inspiring rooms that made guests want to tiptoe into them," the interior designer says. "Comfort was key, with furniture placed – particularly in the living areas – in approachable conversation groups."

Furniture found throughout the interiors is largely antiques, as are the chandeliers and carpets.

"We advised the owner to keep the main pieces fairly simple, so a scatter cushion, flower arrangement or accessory can change the tone of a room," Lafia says. "We used a harmony of tones, but furniture of different scales and proportions and a variety of fabrics to create interest."

With all the accentuation of existing detailing, introduction of contemporary functionality and careful reinvention of the interior design, there was one fundamental goal.

"Essentially we wanted to accentuate the Beverly Hills opulence that this house had once represented," says Lafia. "With every modern convenience, plus lavish materials and finishes, this home is once again fit for Hollywood royalty."

Credit List

Interior designerMonique Lafia, DCIDQ, NCIDQ, Lafia Arvin Design Corporation (Santa Monica, CA)
Original architectGene Verge
ConstructorHouck Construction
Wall finishesFrench plaster in ivory
FlooringEbony hardwood, original black-and-white marble
Exterior lightingGerald Olesker, Architectural Detail Group; 1920s Estate Lighting; customized lighting manufactured by Lantern Master
DrapesCreative Draperies of California
Entry furnitureVenetian console; Chippendale entry bench; German Neo-Gothic mahogany chairs upholstered by Lloyd's
Entry lightingAntique crystal chandelier from Therien & Company; lamp from Cache with custom-designed silk shade; medallion sconce by Paul Ferrante; petite French crystal chandelier; French bronze Torchere from Ferrante
Entry flooringTabriz rug from Mansour; antique Karabagh from J Llouilian Rugs
Living room furnitureRegency mahogany wine coolers from Therien; Napoleon III antique tilt-top table from Therien; Small Queen Anne side chair from Melrose House, Queen Anne secretary from Melrose House; Chinoiserie settee by Cache; L/A custom-designed lounge chair by Lafia Arvin; Scalamandre chair by Paris; reupholstered chair from Lloyd's; Minton Brighton chairs; iron console; Rococo carved stools; George III tea coffee table from Cache; Lennox sofa from Melrose; Lily table in mahogany from Melrose House; Cloverleaf pedestal table from Melrose House
Living room lightingMurano glass torcheres from Cache; 19th century chandelier from Melrose House;
Living room flooringAntique Agra carpet from J Lloulian Rugs
Dining room furnitureVolute dining table by Therien; Feather dining chairs by Melrose House; French urns from Ferrante
Dining room lightingDanish Giltwood chandelier from Therien, French silvered bronze candelabra from Ferrante
Dining room flooring
Vestibule furnitureDolphin armchairs by Melrose House; William IV rosewood-mahogany center table; black lacquer side table from Anne Hauck
Vestibule lighting
Vestibule flooringFereghan Persian rug from J Lloulian
Loggia furnitureBacchus console by Murray's; deep lounge chair, ottoman and end table from Concord Collection, by Murray's; round coffee table from Pascal, by Murray's
StoryCharles Moxham
PhotographyMary Nichols

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