“This house evokes the glamour of Old Hollywood,” says David Bohnett of the Beverly Hills residence he shares with his partner, Tom Gregory. But, when the couple purchased the1930s Paul Williams-style structure, it hadn’t quite reached its full star-studded potential. “The previous owner had done a major remodel about 20 years ago,” says philanthropist and technology entrepreneur Bohnett.
“So it was in need of a makeover.” And looking to the cinematic pedigree of the storied neighborhood—screen legends such as Lucille Ball and Jimmy Stewart once called it home—Bohnett knew what direction to take. “I wanted people to walk in the house and have the sense that Joan Crawford was going to come down the stairs and say, ‘Let’s have a cocktail!’”
To carry out that glamorous vision, Bohnett called on his longtime friend and frequent collaborator, architect Mark Rios, principal of the interdisciplinary firm Rios Clementi Hale Studios in Los Angeles. “It was a beautifully proportioned, elegant house,” says Rios, whose firm handled the architecture, interiors and landscaping, “but none of the details were particularly spectacular. David wanted to make it unique.” Beginning with the architecture, Rios worked with associates Leslie Barrett and Casey Nagel to make subtle but important changes. The kitchen was modernized, baths and powder rooms rebuilt, and a large terrace was added along the second-floor master bedroom.
“The house was visually in good condition,” says LA-based general contractor George Peper, president of Fort Hill Construction, “but that view was a bit misleading.” Peper notes that, while the design changes were made, the house was also brought up to current structural standards.
As the architecture was put in order, so were its surroundings. With firm colleague John Fishback, Rios created grounds that felt “as large and stately as possible” by choosing “very few plant types and repeating them over and over.” In the back yard, the two encircled an existing pond and pool with large-leaf plantings to contrast with the expansive lawns, and they lowered boxwood hedges by several feet to let in light and offer a feeling of openness. “Our goal for the landscape was to simplify it and make it feel more grand,” says Rios.
While the structure and landscaping were kept classic and tailored, Rios, along with design associate Daniel Torres, set out to make an impact with the interiors. “We wanted to take appropriate risks,” says Rios. “So that, when you walk in, you’re bowled over by some of the moves.” To start, they selected colors and patterns that become more intense as one progresses through the house. The liv- ing room, with its linen-covered walls and subdued gold and cream tones, “engages you in the conversation,” says Rios. A sectional sofa in the family room was upholstered with a deep rust-colored fabric, while chocolate-hued leather walls build drama in the dining room. The kitchen and adjoining TV room are energized with lemon-patterned wallpaper, and the palette reaches a crescendo in the game room, where existing paneling was lacquered a rich tomato-soup red. “We tried to exaggerate the experience of each room,” says Rios.
Though the backdrops of the rooms shift, the approach to the furnishings was kept consistent. “It was important to me that the furniture have an eclectic mix of styles,” says Bohnett. “I didn’t want it to feel gimmicky.” Rios agreed and also made a point to find pieces that would work with the house’s traditional sensibility while referencing the couple’s affinity for modernism. “I think filling the house with traditional furniture would have been expected,” says Rios, who hunted down mid-century finds by designers such as Piero Fornasetti, Giò Ponti and Charles Hollis Jones. “The great thing about these pieces is that they have classic roots and proportions but are made in a sculptural and modern way.”
That unexpected quality is part of the home’s success. “It has a quiet approach,” says Rios, “but, as you walk inside, it surprises you. It’s like a story; as you move through, you get to know the characters, and they become a little more eccentric.