West Hollywood Jewel Box
Designer Ruthie Sommers gave the charming house of a style-savvy couple her signature touch: relaxed rooms with an air of glamour.
From the street, you might mistake this sweet Spanish bungalow for one of the many others like it in the neighborhood around West Third Street in Los Angeles. Built in 1929, the house is of a modest scale and, unlike so many notable residences in Tinseltown, it’s not shunted off from public view by a fortress-sized fence or by stiff, dense hedges. Fabulous Angelenos in a rush to put their names on the waiting list for brunch at Toast would be hard-pressed to guess that beneath the unassuming, vine-covered surface of this petite two-bed-room lies an intrepid glamour that even the most splendid homes in the Hills (Holmby, Beverly, or Hollywood—take your pick) often fail to deliver.
The house’s coral-colored front entrance offers a discreet hint of the charms within. Once you pass through the door, however, it’s as though you’ve fallen down the rabbit-hole and landed in Wonderland. A Hollywood Regency-style Wonderland, that is, replete with jolts of jewel-like color, mirrored surfaces, luxe wallpapers, Lucite, and accents of crystal and Murano glass. It’s the sort of home that one could imagine a silk satin-attired Jean Harlow moving into after cashing that first studio check.
The rich, “Old Hollywood” interiors are the result of a felicitous collaboration between the house’s owners, Zoe and Jon Schaeffer, who work in fashion and finance, respectively, and designer Ruthie Sommers, of the ineffably chic Chapman Radcliff design store on La Cienega Boulevard. Just over a year ago, the Schaeffers, fresh off a honeymoon in Turkey and brimming with design ideas, found the house and knew from the start that it was the perfect place in which to begin a life together. It still possessed, however, the aggressive imprint of the previous owner, herself a decorator, that the couple wasn’t entirely sure how to erase. The living area, for example, was originally covered in a mustard-colored sea grass that made the room appear small and dark. Enter Sommers, a North Carolina native who knows just how to strike the right balance between sophistication and whimsy.
“I walked in and immediately, I felt that they should do the room in a pale blue,” Sommers recalls in the most endearing southern drawl. Along with her project manager, Kristen Hutchins, Sommers promptly stripped the sea grass away and painted the walls a cool Farrow & Ball hue that shimmers periwinkle in certain California light. The vibrant palette of the walls carries through to the living room’s furnishings, ranging from the pastel blue and cream carpet to the silver leaf Deco end tables to the David Hicks sofa pillows.
Color also played a leading role in the design of the dining room. In this case, it was Zoe, a former beauty editor who is opening a fashion boutique called Pomme in February, who came up with the organizing principle. “She loves perfume bottles,” Sommers explains. “The color of the chairs,” similar to a medium-bodied pinot noir, “was inspired by a Prada perfume.”
Bold choices that give a nod to high fashion continue into the bedrooms. Sommers painted the master bedroom foyer a deep eggplant to match the metallic Florence Broadhurst wallpaper her clients first fell in love with during a stay at the Soho House in New York. The couple’s wedding photos hang above a regal Empire bench. In the bedroom itself, the wall decoration is minimal. Two antique prints of exotic birds that Zoe’s parents brought back from China ornament one wall, and a single Annie Leibovitz photograph taken from a Vogue shoot hangs opposite the sumptuous silver leaf and brown silk headboard. The room is finished with putty-colored silk curtains, whose ruffled edge Sommers compares to “the hem of an Oscar de la Renta ballgown.”
The guest bedroom is equally luxurious, enlivened by another Florence Broadhurst print of pink flowers and wine-colored swirls. Through the room’s French doors, the Schaeffers’ visiting family and friends can drink in—and play out—the ultimate Southern California tableau: a pristine pool surrounded by mature bamboo and an outlandishly plush cabana.
With its oversized, upholstered chaise lounges, white enamel chandeliers and antique Sarouk carpet, this open-air cabana is the house’s pièce de resistance. Sommers intended the cabana to exude the good life glamour of a Slim Aarons photograph, a fantasy she believes utterly attainable in these sunny climes. “The beauty of where we live is that you can have a faux chateau next to an English Tudor next to a glass house—and nothing seems off,” says Sommers, whose book, The L.A. House, debuts in March. “All of those different elements are united by the palm trees, the jacarandas, the magnolias and the climbing roses—what L.A. is all about.”
By Jen Wang.
Photographed by Grey Crawford.