When Deborah Rhein and Daniel Gleiberman purchased their Los Angeles home last year, they outbid a slew of contractors eager to demolish the 1,600-square-foot ranch and build a new dwelling in its place. "The house really was a teardown," concedes Rhein, a home accessories and fashion designer. "There wasn't a stitch of molding. There were cottage cheese ceilings. It smelled like cigarettes. It was the ugliest duckling you have ever seen."
But the structure sat on a 9,200-square-foot lot, and the couple wanted a yard for their three children (Rose, four, Mia, seven, and Jack, 10), so they were willing to overlook the house's shortcomings. And Rhein suspected there was untapped potential in the small rooms and beneath their '50s finishes. She met with several contractors, but each warned her that opening up the interior would be prohibitively expensive. Then she was introduced to Pacific Palisades, California–based designer-builder Miguel Vidaurre, who turned out to be the only pro who shared her vision and wasn't cowed by the obstacles. He proposed installing a new ridge beam under the old one and adding two interior columns to bear the redistributed weight, turning the living room and dining room into a single, vaulted great room. The couple enthusiastically signed him on.
The resulting 18-by-30-foot space belies the home's modest dimensions, giving the family a light, open place to congregate and entertain friends. Among her decorating influences Rhein counts legendary designer Dorothy Draper—in particular, Draper's bold use of black and white, her willingness to take risks, and her signature ability to create glamorous spaces that maintained a traditional sensibility. So Rhein painted the walls white, installed dark, hand-honed hickory floors, and painted interior door frames a lustrous black. (She found an imported oil-based paint made with special European resins that produces a unique, crack-resistant, lacquerlike finish.) The result looked dramatic and unified, but she knew something else was needed.
"Everything was a little too tied together in a bow," she recalls. "I wanted something unpredictable." She started to introduce splashes of color: a lime green side table, a turquoise painting, yellow patent-leather lambskin chair seats. Each addition helped make things exciting without breaking the bank. "Changing a couch is a big commitment," Rhein says, "but you can always switch out a little table."
She spent six nights hunched over a dining table drafting plans for the kitchen, which Vidaurre went on to execute. "I wanted it to be classic and a little bit contemporary, but to sync with the existing architectural flavor of the house," says Rhein, who paired timeless elements like checkerboard flooring, snowy white cabinets, and Calcutta marble counters with an arresting glass-tile backsplash that echoes the smoky veins in the marble. An unmovable support column was concealed behind double ovens; a built-in china cabinet masks the column on the great room side. A frosted-glass door adorned with silhouettes of the children ushers you into the bedroom wing. Working on a budget—this area didn't need major structural changes, and the couple started on it before their old house had sold—Rhein added architectural variety with stock baseboards, beadboard wainscoting, and crown moldings, disguising the worn oak floors with paint. For decorative interest, she divided the walls of daughter Rose's room with vertical molding and filled each segment with vintage wallpaper. She covered son Jack's walls with 1940s maps found on eBay.
To gain some private space, the owners turned the attached garage into a luxe master suite. Vidaurre tore out the 20-by-17-foot garage's false ceiling and covered the underside of the roof with white-painted spruce planks. Cotton curtains, mirrored nightstands, and a silk-upholstered headboard add glamour.
Although the exterior has been dressed up with paint, a new roof, and glossy black shutters, the owners didn't try to disguise the home's humble architecture—just make it better. "I really wanted to maximize the house as it was and keep its integrity," says Rhein, "and I had a lot of fun doing it."
Style to Go™: Cottage Industry
Homeowner Deborah Rhein has been designing chic giftware items since 1991.
|Embroidered Pagoda Pillow in red linen, 16" square, $70. D.L. Rhein for Peking Handicraft. 877-357-4346, .|
|Aspen Woods Serveware in turquoise. Ceramic. Platter, 13" x 18", $55; pitcher, 8" high, $35; relish server, 5½" high x 9" diameter, $35; cake plate, 6" high x 10" diameter, $40. D.L. Rhein for Silvestri by Demdaco.|
|Red/Green Fleurish Tree Skirt in hooked wool. 52" diameter, $160. D.L. Rhein for Peking Handicraft.|