"I wanted a space I could furnish with antiques but in a contemporary fashion-nothing stuffy or serious, but fun." Lee Stanton had one additional requirement for his Los Angeles pied-à-terre: It had to be in close proximity to whatever property he purchased for an antiques showroom-a shop that would augment his thriving gallery an hour away in San Juan Capistrano, which had put him on the radar screen of the L.A. design community during the past 13 years.
"After searching three years for a location in Los Angeles, I bought this property on the spot," he recalls. And why not? It included a 1930s-vintage commercial structure ideal as an antiques showroom, plus a two-story apartment building with a private courtyard connecting it to the shop-all in the throbbing heart of Los Angeles's La Cienega/Melrose antiques and design district.
"I live in the upstairs apartment, rent out the downstairs, and walk across the courtyard to the shop every day. Then on weekends, I drive back to my home in Laguna Beach," Lee explains, demonstrating the kind of brisk logic that informs his apartment's thoughtful, efficient design- beginning underfoot.
Euphemistically recounting one of the more unsavory features of the derelict property when he bought it, Lee says, "Stray cats had been living here several years, and the hardwood floors were stained." Instead of ripping out the former litter box and laying a new floor, Lee took a more practical approach. "I knew I wanted a black lacquered floor, and that treatment was all that was needed to seal off and conceal the imperfections."
Creating a sense of distinct spaces in the 800-square-foot apartment posed a bigger challenge. "The walls are structural, so nothing could be subtracted, and adding doors was impossible-there's not enough room to open them." Lee's solution: Hinge together architecturally appealing windows as screens. "They give a sense of separation without closing off spaces," he notes.
Because of the visibility between rooms, Lee used color to unify spaces. More important, he used it to unify furniture of different periods and pedigrees. He introduces a brilliant turquoise on the 20th-century dining room pedestal table's glass top. Mounted on the nearby wall, an 18th-century trumeau repeats the turquoise hue on its original painted wood.
Initially, he thought turquoise would be the only color accent in the neutral apartment. (Walls are painted a taupey "English stone.") "But I liked the square shape of some chairs I had in inventory to contrast with the round dining table. I just didn't know about introducing their red cushions." Yet one night in Laguna, he had an epiphany: "I was looking at a painting I owned of a castle, which features red rooftops. I realized it was the piece I needed in the apartment to make the chairs work." Serendipitously, the painting also featured a pageantry of horsemen, making it kindred to the steed-mounted painting of King George III that Lee already had hanging in the apartment's living room. So with the single castle painting, he had connected two themes.
"One of the things I wanted to achieve here was to set an example of using antiques in a nontraditional setting. I have a stainless-steel kitchen that's very crisp and clean, but it includes a 19th-century Gothic Revival mirror to add character and enhance the sense of space. Antiques don't have to be displayed in a pure environment. The juxtaposition is what's fun."
As another example, he points to the dining room's 18th-century French tole lantern. "You can see it from this sleek, modern kitchen, and it's a total surprise. I removed the existing electrical fixture and replaced it with the 18th-century lantern that uses only candles." That collision of worlds has a magical effect that square footage can't begin to measure.