Pimp My House

If your Prince Charming ever shows up and carries you off on his white horse (or, alternately, a white Nissan Sentra), you'll probably end up living in a mansion pretty much like this year's Orange County Philharmonic design house. After you get married, of course.

It's that nice.

Not because you could actually afford to buy a house like this—it's an 8,000-square-foot mansion in equestrian Laguna Hills, down the street from some dwelling called the Martini Ranch.

Not because you and your shedding cat, your smelly dog and your three kids could actually keep a place like this intact longer than a week.

Just because, you know, it's nice to dream, the way you fantasize about Prince Charming: good teeth, nice smell, taller than Prince. A class act all the way.

So's this house, the home of an actual OC Philharmonic member and her hubby—and the organization's annual fund-raiser for music education. Its only lapses into gauche come from an ostentatiousness that's really unavoidable when you're redecorating on this scale.

An army of Orange County's reputedly finest designers have turned this one out, from entryway to back patio, which incidentally features a host of comfy outdoor furniture in dark-painted metal, with striped cushions. Take a seat, and you can gaze out at someone else's pool; look right, and there's someone else's oversized water fountain. It's merely huge. Barely enormous.

Inside, the overdecorating continues. The breakfast nook, a.k.a. the morning room, a round cylinder of a space, “sounded like a silo,” the Philharmonic's press agent tells me, so designers ended the echoing with curtains in a goldy-beige color on carefully bent rods—top and bottom, leaving just a strip of window at eye level when you're eating your kippers.

The kitchen got pretty much the standard redo—which, down here, means really nice. The stove hood looks like part of an old stagecoach, and as with virtually every room in the house, there's a chandelier. “It's said,” my guide says, “that chandeliers aren't just for the dining room any more.”

Whoever said that must have been shouting it in here; I can't trip over a throw rug and fall down a flight of stairs without rolling past a chandelier. Or past a group of ladies. It's all ladies up in here: when I arrive to surrender my masculinity, I'm the only guy—except for the security guard, who's reading an Amy Tan book. At least I think he's a guy.

Everyone's really nice, so nice they almost overwhelm me, like the changes done to this house. ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition couldn't do this in a week.

In four months, the designers have taken something (your basic Orange County white plaster and dated, lightly stained oak box) and made it pop. They darkened the oak everywhere, adding rich red-velvet panels to the already-oaken library walls, making it what it already wanted to be: a very traditional library space.

In the game room, the designer came in early 'cause there was so much staining and painting to do: she stripped and stained the exposed beams overhead, dyed the hardwood floor ebony, added assorted wood moldings and a dark-wood bar (there's enough new molding in here to reach halfway to the moon), and toned down the paint scheme.


“One of the things with these houses that are so big—they're so big!” my chaperone said. “And you have to try to make them more cozy and livable.”

It's one of the supreme ironies of Orange County—everyone wants a huge house, and everyone has to hire a designer to make it livable.

As they shuttled us back to our cars—me and a busful of wimmens—I heard one remark: “They had a nice house, but they really didn't have any style.”

Now, all that's been fixed.

Visit the Philharmonic House of Design through Tues. Park and catch the shuttle to the house in Lot C, Federal Building, 24000 Avila Rd., Laguna Niguel. (714) 840-7542; www.philharmonicsociety.org. Open Thurs., May 20, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri.-Sun. N Tues., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. $25.

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