Ruthie Sommers, Ruthie Sommers Interior Design, email@example.com.
Photographs by Grey Crawford
Text by Candace Ord Manroe
Produced by Laura Hull
Some clients keep their designers on a short leash to avoid surprises. Then there's Lisa and Brad Weinstock. These Los Angeles homeowners confidently snipped the tethers restraining interior designer Ruthie Sommers and sent her racing into the realm of the unexpected. Their only mandate was a mild, "Surprise us, please."
Built in 1933, the Weinstocks' Spanish Colonial-style home in Hancock Park had had only one owner--remarkable, given Southern California's propensity for change. "It had never been altered," says Lisa, a stay-at-home mom with a background in interior design. "It was terrific because the house was in its original state, but we wanted to bring it up to the present. We wanted to respect the character and age, but we also wanted a surprise here and there. Some unpredictability."
Not too much to ask of Sommers, who's known for her youthful palette, fresh touch with texture, and knack for the uniquely eclectic. "Trust was a big factor," notes the designer, who insists that the remodel and decoration were a team effort with both Lisa and Brad, a real estate and Internet executive, actively engaged. "When you have a real collaboration, the results are better," Sommers muses. "Things I might have resisted as a designer--like the two big swivel club chairs and piano that Brad wanted for the living room--end up making a more livable home, which means a better design."
Livability, in fact, was not negotiable. The Weinstocks have three small children and one big dog. Every room had to be approachable: family-friendly any time, all the time. Add to that Lisa's fondness for French design and the standards of elegance implied by that, and the playing field became oppositional. But Sommers turned that tension to the design's advantage, elevating family function a notch on the fineness chart, while tamping down French style's fussy self-importance.
Mainly, she had fun. No room attests to this more than the breakfast area. Because Lisa wanted this to be a family hub, Sommers hit on a sweet conceit, designing a space that suggests an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. She convinced Lisa that the walls should be slathered with thick mocha-and-white stripes, while the ceiling and lower wall beneath the chair rail would be painted pastel pink. Into this lively backdrop, she centered a simple Saarinen table and surrounded it with a rainbow of chairs, each upholstered in a different cupcake-frosting color. Sommers found the vintage chairs in Palm Beach, then painted them crisp cottage white.
To give Lisa the elegance she appreciates and at the same time deliver a design durable for children and pets, the designer headed to a clothing fabric store. She purchased 11/2 yards of linen for each chair, with each fabric from a different, intensely saturated dye lot. Then she treated the fabrics with a matte laminate to give them the function of vinyl sans the stigma of plastic. Finally, she tufted the tops for a hint of grown-up glam. "I love this room," praises Lisa. "With three small children, spills happen. These chairs can be wiped clean, but they still have nice linen beneath the laminate."
Trying to maintain the original footprint as much as possible while still meeting their family's needs, the Weinstocks gently enlarged the kitchen by extending it to replace a patio. Then they followed the same lines upstairs, capturing new square footage from an old sleeping porch.
"The original kitchen was quite small," reflects Lisa, "and we needed a space that would allow us to see the children when they play outside." They achieved that goal and also improved the kitchen's architecture with a coffered ceiling and symmetrical arches. "To the right of the fridge, we tore out what had been a little phone-booth alcove, arched the opening, and added bookshelves," she explains. The new arch mirrors the original one on the refrigerator's other side, which leads to the original butler's pantry and on to the dining room.
An insouciant attitude is announced upon entering the home. An old bergère (Sommers calls it a "granny chair") morphed from fusty to saucy when re-covered in a bright pink flame stitch and trimmed out in pink welting with nailheads. "The inspiration actually came from a chair Lisa had admired in Traditional Home," Sommers acknowledges.
With a predominantly cool and understated palette, formal symmetrical balance, and a smattering of antiques, the living room has the feel of a traditional tearoom, which was Lisa's desire. But like the other rooms, it packs a surprise. A collection of funky busts and child-art on the mantel, plus warm, rhythmic animal prints on the chairs make it snap. "It also has a big, comfortable sofa covered in an approachable [linen] fabric, and a fairly informal coffee table," points out Sommers.
In the dining room, orange Fortuny fabric on the repro Chippendale chairs and a scenic de Gournay wallpaper above the wainscoting honor Lisa's old-world sensibility, but in a youthful, kicky palette of orange and pink. An undressed window outlined with orange tape (an easy DIY-er) and a sisal rug underfoot complete the casual balance needed for a room used every Friday night for family dinner and throughout the week as the gathering place where the children work on their arts and crafts.
The family room features a design that gets up close and personal with the homeowners, particularly the children. "We had each of the three children's initials embroidered on the three back cushions of the big, bright red sofa," reflects Sommers. White welting and polka-dot trim on the dust ruffle spell nothing if not playfulness.
In contrast to the bold, primary colors of the family room, Lisa's home office is soft and pretty, indulging the Francophile with a beautiful green-and-pink toile that covers the furniture and dresses the windows. "The room has its original paneling and stenciled ceiling, but the toile really brings it to life," Lisa says. "It also was my chance to have a more feminine space." (Lisa was less insistent this go-round that every room be infused with French design, having exhausted the style in their last home.)
"Lisa and Brad are very cool, down-to-earth yet sophisticated people who wanted a fresh eye and innovation in their home without seeming too trendy," Sommers summarizes. She gave them what they wanted. Surprise!