Photos by Tenaya HillsEffective right now, we're banishing all interior white house paint to the land of wind and ghosts. No more white paint, ever! No Navajo White, no Linen White, no Polar Ice, no Pearl White. It's too easy, too ubiquitous, too "rental property," too cheap-looking, and way too easy to smudge.
But don't take our word for it. The new Orange County Philharmonic Society's House of Design—its annual fund-raiser for music education—is a virtual declaration of principles, and first on the list is the principle that white paint is very, very bad.
"This place was all white. It was a blank canvas," says House of Design Benefit Chair Jeannine Matsumoto, adding behind her hand, "but it was very boring. But don't print that." Uh, sorry, Jeannine.
It's not that way any more. This 13th edition of the design house is one of the coolest series entries in recent memory—chiefly because you can almost see yourself living in a place like this. Trick paint, a relatively cheap and easy effect, is a big reason why.
Oh, sure, it's still imposing, daunting and well beyond your means: the home theater setup in the garage is priced at more than $100,000, and the closets in the master bedroom are worth $40,000. But despite the high price tags and ceilings—30 feet or so in the entry foyer—the overall feel of this 1980s-era home is quite unassuming. That's because almost anyone can paint a room—even if it's the entry foyer here, where you need big ladders or grappling hooks; even if the paint they used is something called lustre-stone, a wicked taupe-colored creation with flecks of mica in it that give it a golden, mile-deep, stoney effect.
The foyer took a bunch of guys on scaffolding a month to paint, Matsumoto says—but it was worth it, even the gold stenciling on the ceiling, which is better than most, and especially what they replaced the scaffolding with: a statuesque plant arrangement that brings added dimension—and living stuff—to the space.
Like cool paint, plants figure throughout. In the living room, alongside 17th-century antiques my tour guides actually think I can afford, is a stand of potted bamboo that reaches for the beamed ceiling and almost makes it. The paint is pretty basic—though here and elsewhere, natural built-ins have been restained darker—except the fireplace. I don't catch the perspective at first, but here and behind me over the entry the walls have been painted to look just like sections of inset marble. You have to be almost on top of it to realize that all this is just flat paint, trompe l'oeil.
Upstairs, the detail continues. The master bedroom is so 1940s Hollywood deluxe—with a platform bed and mirrored headboard (the classy kind)—that you don't notice the paint, but the guest bedroom and the couple's four-year-old son's bedroom emphasize games you can play with your paintbrush. Created by a designer transplanted from Hawaii, the guest bedroom has a modern tropical feel emphasized by cool slate blue matte paint with just slightly darker horizontal stripes rolled in. It's a theme repeated in the opaque glass closet doors, where stripes are sandblasted in.
It's very adult—which, naturally, the boy's room and playroom are very much not. In there, it's a jungle, painted shades of yellow, red and green throughout. They're all cool shades, so it works, and just to drive the point home, they're repeated in leopard print on a desk the designer painted herself. Next door, the playroom—which is being speedily finished when we walk through—has a picture of Mount Everest ready to be hung. Its colors—blue and white—are picked up with blue walls and a gorgeous mural behind a wall of bookshelves that depicts a mountain peak very similar to Everest. This being a playroom in a design house, there's perhaps the coolest touch of all: a little rock-climbing wall forkids.It's not real rock, of course—and instead of nails, there are oversized plastic alphabet letters for hand- and footholds, but the climb is real. Some kids will soon be clambering all the way to the ceiling like little monkeys. Lucky them.
Which, of course, is how you feel exiting this gracious stucco gem—which looks all 1930s Spanish-style from the driveway, thanks to support beams done in a beautiful teal and accented with red bougainvillea. That's always how you feel after touring a design house, except this year's version is just close enough to reality that it makes you want to hurry up and paint something.
VISIT THE PHILHARMONIC HOUSE OF DESIGN THROUGH MAY 22. PARK AND CATCH THE SHUTTLE TO THE HOUSE AT THE NORTHWEST CORNER OF NEWPORT AVENUE AND E. 17TH STREET, SANTA ANA. (714) 840-7542; WWW.PHILHARMONICSOCIETY.ORG. OPEN TUES.-SUN., 10 A.M.-5 P.M., EXCEPT THURS., 10 A.M.-9 P.M. CLOSED MON. $20-$35.