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Artfully Staged Home in Hollywood Hills
A Hollywood Hills home with a glamorous history gets a makeover by designer Michael Berman
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Built in the 1920s by entertainer Rudy Vallee and later owned by the flashy and flamboyant Liberace, Jeffrey and Catharine Soros’s Spanish-style home seemed predestined to become a showstopper. With its architectural version of high cheekbones and a chiseled jaw, the Hollywood Hills home with sweeping views from downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean has aged gracefully—requiring, just recently, only the slightest of updates.
Purchased by the Soroses in 2004, the home was in design denial—swathed in a 1980s palette of turquoise, peach, and purple that nodded to Liberace’s spirit but did nothing for the couple’s craving for understated glamour and a subdued yet impactful palette.
“Color was important to me,” Catharine says. “And we didn’t want anything too pretentious or grand.”
Enter Michael Berman—a designer known for creating sophisticated yet approachable interiors with an emphasis on architecture. “The house was definitely very early-’80s when we started working on it,” Berman says. “But the bones were amazing, and the architectural details were intact for the most part. We approached this more as set design than interior design—assembling photography, contemporary art, and furnishings as though we were painting layers on a canvas.”
Photography: Michael Garland
Produced with Darra Baker
Interior designer: Michael Berman, Michael Berman Ltd., 7215 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036; 323/933-0220, michaelbermanlimited.com.
Architect for family room addition and pool area: KAA Design Group, 4201 Redwood Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90066; 310/821-1400, kaadesigngroup.com.
Design styles mix gracefully here. Midcentury furnishings live peacefully with Art Deco details. Seventeenth-century antiques mingle amicably with 1940s Modernist pieces. Hand-me-downs—a George Nelson dinette set in the breakfast room that belonged to Jeffrey’s mother, for example—share space with modern pieces designed by Berman. “We didn’t stay within the parameters of any particular design era,” Berman says. “The home is truly a mélange of different eras.”
Designed for a Norma Desmond–worthy entrance, the theatrical entry hall is arguably the home’s most dramatic space. A Moroccan-inspired hanging lantern, stained-glass windows designed by Berman, and a sweeping iron balustrade converge above Gothic archways leading to the living room, dining room, and terrace beyond.
An enfilade—leading from the entry to the dining terrace—greets guests upon entering.
Hanging lantern (antique Moroccan): T.L. Gurley Antiques, gurleyantiques.com.
Cabinet (custom): Michael Berman Ltd., michaelbermanlimited.com.
Sconces in stairwell (hand-forged iron sconces): Dessin Fournir, dessinfournir.com.
Colorful Family Room
Catharine’s request for color came into play in the family room, where even playtime has a glamorous bent. Charged with creating a space where the kids could “hang out, get messy, play music, create art, and watch television,” Berman didn’t dial down the style.
To establish a youthful, casual air, the designer upholstered two Saarinen “Womb” chairs in watermelon-pink and combined them with a vibrant orange chenille sofa. While kid-friendly, their elegant lines play gracefully off the room’s soaring beamed ceiling, Gothic-style lanterns, and double-height fireplace. “We designed the fireplace with my signature ‘Paloma’ plaster birds,” Berman says. “It’s an homage to Alberto Giacometti and Jean-Michel Frank, who often collaborated on modern interiors in the 1920s and ’30s. I think it’s a wonderful inspiration for a creative space.”
For practicality, stylish storage was added in the form of elegant built-ins flanking the fireplace.
Paint (“White Sand”): Porter’s Original Paints, porterspaints.com.
Hanging lantern (product line varies): Eccola Imports, eccolaimports.com.
Mantel (custom, Paloma Bird Sculpture): Bronze Studio LA, bronzestudiola.com.
Cabinets flanking mantel (custom): Michael Berman Ltd., michaelbermanlimited.com.
Fuchsia chairs and ottoman (“Womb Chair,” by Eero Saarinen): Knoll, knoll.com.
Chair and ottoman fabric (“Fuchsia Light” #2710-308): Design Tex, designtex.com.
Dog statue (by Jeff Koons): owner’s collection.
End table by sofa (“Mado End Table,” discontinued): Donghia, donghia.com.
Lamp on end table: vintage.
Sophisticated Living Room
When it’s time for grown-up entertaining, the living room and adjacent music parlor are the stage. Seating is plentiful, as the Soroses often host large gatherings. A long, low banquette-style sofa was custom-designed by Berman as the perfect perch for cocktail parties. A “Papa Bear” wing chair by Hans Wegner acts as a sculptural endnote to the neutral space. The artwork over the sofa is by Brazilian artist Vik Muniz.
Wall paint (“Himalaya”); ceiling and door paint (“Piraeus”): Porter’s Original Paints, porterspaints.com.
Hanging light (“Wells Pendant”); sofa (custom); pair of lounge chairs (custom): by Michael Berman Ltd., michaelbermanlimited.com.
Lounge-chair fabric: Donghia, donghia.com.
Area rug (antique Agra): Mansour, mansourrug.com.
Art: owner’s collection.
Floor lamp (“Dowel Floor Lamp,” discontinued): Baker, bakerfurniture.com.
End table, right of sofa: vintage.
Lamp on end table (“Mercury Ball Lamp”); vase on coffee table: Bronze Studio LA, bronzestudiola.com.
Coffee table: Wyeth, wyethhome.com.
Wing chair (“Papa Bear Chair” by Hans Wegner): vintage. For reproduction, Modernica, modernica.net.
Cabinet in corner (19th-century Spanish): Eccola, eccolaimports.com.
Living Room Table
An oak center table by Jasper and antique Greco-Roman chairs offer additional seating for dinner parties.
Table (“French Oak Center Table” #403-1, by Jasper): Michael S Smith Inc., michaelsmithinc.com.
Chairs (antique Greco-Roman Occasional Chairs); floor lamp (vintage Jacques Adnet): JF Chen, jfchen.com.
Chair fabric (beige leather): Holly Hunt, hollyhunt.com.
Art; floor art: owner’s collection.
Color—in the form of deep eggplant walls and ocher wingback settees—is introduced in the adjacent library, where Berman took care to set a moody tone that encourages relaxation. “I love giving an intimate room with books deep wall tones,” he says. “It sets the mood for reading and lounging by a fire.” The room doesn’t skimp on comfort—a necessity for Catharine. “It’s elegant yet comfortable,” she says. “The perfect balance.”
Dramatic settees from Donghia flank a leather-clad ottoman from Holly Hunt to create a cozy place for a fireside chat.
Wall paint (“Mombasa”)” Porter’s Original Paints, porterspaints.com.
Hanging lantern (reproduction): JF Chen, jfchen.com.
Mantel (custom, limestone); mirror over mantel (“Derby”); sconces above bookshelf (custom): Michael Berman Ltd., michaelbermanlimited.com.
Mugs on mantel: owner’s collection.
Sofas (discontinued): Donghia. donghia.com.
Ottoman (discontinued): Holly Hunt, hollyhunt.com.
Art on grating: owner’s collection.
In the updated kitchen, elements that are often unaccustomed to the limelight get top billing. Vintage 1930s lanterns offer a nod to the home’s genesis. Celery-green subway tiles highlighted with a thin black stripe climb from countertop to ceiling. A black leather-finished soapstone countertop on the center island adds patina. “It wears beautifully,” Berman says. “It looks original the moment you install it.”
Cabinetry (custom): Michael Berman Ltd., michaelbermanlimited.com.
Finish on perimeter cabinetry (“Piraeus”): Porter’s Original Paints, porterspaints.com.
Finish on island cabinetry: chestnut.
Wall tile: Walker Zanger, walkerzanger.com.
Sinks; faucets: Rohl, rohlhome.com.
Pot rack: Reborn Antiques & Reproductions, rebornantiques.net.
Lights over island (vintage, molded milk glass pendant): Michael Berman Ltd., michaelbermanlimited.com.
Bar stool (“Modern”/Maple #8013S): Nancy Corzine, nancycorzine.com.
Range: Viking, vikingrange.com.
Range hood: custom.
Berman chose ceramic subway tiles from Walker Zanger for the kitchen, installing them from countertop to ceiling—including the hood. A black pinstripe through the tile references the leather-finished soapstone countertop.
Russet Breakfast Room
A George Nelson dining set from Jeffrey’s mother lives happily with a vintage server and a glass-front cabinet custom-designed by Berman. The paint color is “Russett” from Porter’s Original Paints.
Wall paint (“Russett”); ceiling paint (“Piraeus”): Porter’s Original Paints, porterspaints.com.
Table and chairs: owner’s collection.
Hanging light: owner’s collection.
Chair in corner; clock: antique.
Glass cabinet (custom design by Michael Berman): Michael Berman Ltd., michaelbermanlimited.com.
Cool Dining Room
The dining room is light and lovely, with French doors opening to the outside. Peonies offer a pop of color on the dining room table.
A table and chairs from Gloster add clean lines to the dining terrace.
Table and chairs (“Vermont”): Gloster, gloster.com. Seat cushions (discontinued): Sunbrella, sunbrella.com.
Hanging fixture: vintage.
Downstairs, an Art Deco-inspired screening room is a favorite venue for Oscar parties and screenings (Jeffrey is a producer), as well as for stylish sleepovers for the kids. Stadium seating in the form of tiered banquettes upholstered in a Deco-themed jacquard fabric offers unobstructed views of a stage framed by a glamorous stepped proscenium. “It’s a throwback to another era,” Berman says. “You can just imagine Liberace giving recitals there.”
Wall and ceiling paint (“Golden Fleece”): PPG Porter Paints, ppgporterpaints.com.
Trim paint (“Piraeus”): Porter’s Original Paints, porterspaints.com.
Sofas (custom); fabric: Michael Berman Ltd. michaelbermanlimited.com.
Poster art: owner’s collection
An adjoining game room with a pool table, leather-covered club chairs, and mahogany furniture acts as a second family room—one with a decided “clubby and slightly French Deco” vibe, Berman says. A wainscot painted in military green enhances the room’s masculine appeal. Berman found the vintage Danish floor lamp at JF Chen.
Wall paint (“Flax”); wall board paint (“Peat”): Porter’s Original Paints, porterspaints.com.
Flooring: oak, in chestnut brown finish.
Light over billiard table (antique); cabinet behind billiard table (French Bowfront Sideboard, 1930s): Little Paris Antiques, littleparisantiques.com.
Lamp on cabinet; art over cabinet; leather chairs: owner’s collection.
Chair leather (chocolate hide): Ashbury Hides, ashburyhides.com.
Cigar table between leather chairs: antique.
Floor lamp (vintage Danish curved wood lamp): JF Chen, jfchen.com.
Art: owner’s collection.
Equally theatrical is the master suite—made up of a bedroom, a domed dressing room vestibule, two master closets, and a master bath. Here, the home’s Art Deco roots really show. An enfilade behind the headboard leads from the master bedroom to a pumpkin-hued vestibule, and into the master bath.
Wall paint: Portola, portolapaints.com.
Bed (custom); bedside tables (custom): Michael Berman Ltd., michaelbermanlimited.com.
Headboard fabric (“Raffia Texture”/Sand #25830): Schumacher, fschumacher.com.
Bed linens; blanket; Greek-key pillows; table lamps (vintage Mercury Mirror Lamps): Bronze Studio LA, bronzestudiola.com.
Hanging light: from Thomas Lavin, thomaslavin.com.
A ziggurat-style tiered ceiling and arched enfilade—from bedroom to hallway to master bath—enchant the eye. A Robsjohn-Gibbings klismos-style chaise graces an archway and offers a chic spot for lounging.
A stained-glass fixture in the dressing room vestibule infuses the space with shots of warm ocher, vibrant green, and lapis blue while illuminating the master bathroom’s original turquoise, black, and ocher tiles.
Wall paint (“Calico”); ceiling and trim paint (“Piraeus”): Porter’s Original Paints, porterspaints.com.
Hanging light (“Wedding Cake Milk Glass): vintage.
Bathtub; bath fixtures; flooring; vanity; vanity hardware: original.
Footstool fabric (“Chiang Mai Dragon”/Aquamarine #173270): Schumacher, fschumacher.com.
Stained glass window (custom): Michael Berman Ltd., michaelbermanlimited.com.
A lovely pond is tucked behind the house.
Pool cushions on the “Marrakesh” chaise longues from Janus et Cie accentuate the terra-cotta-hued poolside tile. Landscape design was a collaboration between Berman and KAA Design Group.
“This house is the ultimate set design for their life,” Berman says. “It’s curated and collected, reflects the Soroses’ personal style, and works as a beautiful backdrop to showcase their passion for beautiful objects.”
The house offers views that range from downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean.
Homeowners Jeffrey and Catharine Soros in their entry.
The Sidecar, price available upon request from Moore & Giles [1-800-737-0169]
This beautifully crafted bar cart, The Sidecar by Moore and Giles, is a great way to store liquor, glassware, bar tools, and anything else needed to complete your own miniature bar. The cart, made of Virginia black walnut, birch, leather, aluminum, and brass, is wheeled to make sure the party can travel with you. Perfect for drink-lovers without the space for a full bar.