Good Bones

Careful restoration and decoration revived designer David-Michael Madigans historic Federal-style home

Photo by James BunoanSANTA ANA: Three-bedroom, two-bathroom house
OCCUPANTS: David-Michael Madigan, his partner Mark and Elsie the cat
YEAR BUILT: 1936
SQUARE FOOTAGE: 2,100
PAID: $435,000 IN 2001

"Nothing in my house matches. I don't want anything to match," interior designer David-Michael Madigan says, pausing from an exhaustive verbal catalog to make a general statement about the antiques that line his 1936 Federal-style home in Santa Ana's Floral Park. Which amounts to a little white lie: nothing in his house matches, yet everything goes together—monochromatic artworks, stately wooden vitrines, rare oils of the first First Family, ornamental eagles that recall the one set into the home's stucco exterior. ("They watch over me. They're my protectors," their collector says.) For all intents and purposes, it all matches. In design circles this is a high achievement, and Madigan, 39, who also provides a regular design segment to KTLA's morning show, knows what he is doing.

This square, 2,100-square-foot stucco box of a home is only his latest dwelling in Floral Park, a historic district just north of downtown Santa Ana where bankers and friends settled after their forefathers had filled French Park, an earlier historic district due southeast. A banker, in fact, was the first owner of Madigan's manse—though the house is so chock-a-block with artifacts that one scarcely pauses to look past the 17th-century Italian bronze, the midcentury abstract painting, the ceramics, and the vintage pulpit and font Madigan recently brought home from Italy to see what a banker saw in it. That's a pity, for there is much to appreciate in this exceptional house, beautifully restored, reminiscent of a government building—but barely big enough for a banker, you think. "Knowing they were in the Depression, he was a very conservative guy," Madigan theorizes about the home's size.

Madigan bought the place in disrepair—crown moldings falling, oak and heart pine flooring in desperate need of a new finish—but today it has a $20,000 paint job, and new plumbing is next. The restoration shows in thick entryway walls warmed by a creamy shade of taupe and arched doorways: standard height only at the highest point, which lends the whole place a cozy air. Wall treatments set off the morning room as well—bold black-and-white prints that echo the toothy "dental work" detailing elsewhere in the house. The wallpaper covers an original trompe l'oeil painting, which Madigan, who writes a historic preservation column for the historic district newsletter, had restored and then carefully covered because it didn't fit his plans for the room. Someday, he explains, a later owner can take up the wallpaper and find the mural absolutely intact.

This is the key: remove the salesmen's models, incense burners and handcrafted wooden boxes, the assortments of table lighters and Sascha Brastoff pieces, and underneath is a vintage home with virtually all its original fixtures. In the bathroom, a curvy Streamline Moderne tub flanks a "peg-leg" sink with original brass center-set faucet—mounted to the corner. Lucite towel racks abound, as do original three-panel doors—more commonly seen in midcentury homes—medicine cabinets with "butterfly" hinges and tiny hand-hammered pewter doorknobs and sconces. Also: vintage plastic light switch covers, gorgeous glass shades on the light fixtures and black glass knobs on all kitchen storage. It is a hardware store come to life, a paean to American detailing—and an inspiration to companies like American Standard, which now reissue their old fixtures with such niceties as water diffusers.

"People come in here with the incense burning and everything going," Madigan observes, "it's almost like a church in here at night."

And whether your idols are ceramic, oak, bakelite or pewter, you may worship as you choose.

 
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