Pacific whim: an interior designer’s Santa Monica cottage mixes the lost, the found, and the luxuriously restored

Pacific whim: an interior designer’s Santa Monica cottage mixes the lost, the found, and the luxuriously restored – Home

Tessa Benson

ANYBODY WHO HAS HOUSE-HUNTED knows the term “great bones,” an idiom that often translates as shag carpeting, rotting drywall, out-of-date plumbing–i.e., a gut job. To make a great home out of great bones takes a certain vision, and interior designer Hillary Thomas has it. When she found her 1920s Spanish-style cottage in Santa Monica 1998, “it needed a face-lift,” she says. “But the way the rooms flowed, I was convinced it would be a great place for our family.”

Thomas lives with her husband, a movie producer, their children–Lucy, 2, and Charlie, 3–and two gigantic and ebullient Bernese mountain dogs. Keeping everyone’s needs in mind, Thomas worked with Los Angeles-based architect Mark Appleton to reinvent the two-story; 3,800-square-foot structure. She imagined a place snatched off the dunes of Martha’s Vineyard, a welcoming country house relaxed enough to feel like a vacation home. “I wanted to make something comfortable with an East Coast sensibility but practical for the children and the dogs,” she says.

Partial to high-end materials–Raoul Dufy, Kathryn Ireland, and Scalamandre fabrics, Stark carpeting–in her renovations, Thomas is less label conscious in her basic acquisitions. She spends days sifting through flea markets, estate sales, and junk stores, surfacing with abandoned pieces she’s determined to bring back to life. A recent find was a pair of overstuffed day chairs. “They were the tackiest, most retro things I had ever seen. Completely Day-Glo.” Thomas re-covered them in green-and-white plaid fabric, and now they bookend a pink down-pillow sofa she designed for the living room. She also found a chinoiserie-style black coffee table, converted electric blue French milk glass into lamps with pink silk shades, and transformed a child’s antique headboard into a fireplace screen.

“I love living in color,” Thomas says. This is evident. Colors bounce throughout her living room. By picking up a pale mint shade from the fabric on a throw pillow, she arrived at the hue for the walls. With the canvas in place, she pulled out the stops: A salmon pink bamboo mirror hangs above the fireplace, fuchsia starfish sprawl on the coffee table with a dramatic flower arrangement (delivered weekly by a friend’s gardener), an Elizabeth Eakins pink-and-white cotton rug accents a patch of the hardwood floors, and the pillows on the sofa are covered in floral pastels. A dark, frameless painting that seems to be an exploration of navy blue hangs on the most prominent wall and subtly anchors the room’s vibrancy.

In the dinning room, Thomas went for more formal tones in the furniture. A light cherry wood table is surrounded by black lacquer chairs. Bamboo scones by designer Paul Ferrante provide the light source. The color was saved for the walls. Thomas hired artist Mike Ayres to come up with a mural and urged him to go wild. He came up with a jungle theme–monkeys scampering over a lush tangle of vines set against a sun yellow background.

Color–in this case lime green–gives the kitchen its character, too. “I painted it on the spur of the moment one weekend when my husband was on a business trip,” Thomas says. The barn red floors took a little more advance planning. “We used ten coats of outdoor porch paint. We couldn’t walk on it for two weeks.” Now, not even Booty and Bailey, 100-plus pounds each, can make a dent in it. Thanks to the flat-screen TV and the chintz sofa, the room is a family gathering place. Silver-framed finger paintings by Lucy and Charlie are positioned between the Sub-Zero fridge and the Viking stove.

A darker shade of green is used in the den–a book-lined nook with a chenille sofa and another TV. Just outside is the patio (equipped with heat lamps, so it’s usable year-round) and the children’s wood playhouse, painted red to match the wicker furniture, and a small pool that Thomas added. Landscaper Scan Knibb (whose clients include Greg Kinnear and J.Lo) styled the yard with succulents and vining plants.

In the master bedroom and bath, Thomas gave color a rest. “I fell in love with this African toile fabric by Scalamandre and decided to design the room around it.” The bed is strewn lavishly with pillows and dressed in cream-colored custom linens with monograms. The off-white linen chaise, piped in celadon green, sports even more pillows, these in a waffle print piped in gray The nightstand is a table passed down from Thomas’s grandmother. “Even though I rework other people’s antiques,” she says, “my most prized possessions are my own heirlooms.”

Three years after moving in, Thomas has completed her renovation. For now, at least. “I am obsessed with redecorating,” she says. “My house is my experiment.” When she decides it’s time for a room to go back through the design lab, she’ll have an estate sale of her own and start all over again.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Los Angeles Magazine, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group