Designer Scott Formby may have moved to Los Angeles intent on finding a midcentury home—in fact, he did consider one by Richard Neutra—but an alluring, aging beauty in the Hollywood Hills won his heart. “I was intrigued by the architecture, the beautiful windows and that it was a little imposing,” Formby recalls. The house, a 1920s Spanish-Moorish style that steps up the hillside in five levels, also came with an irresistible history. It reportedly belonged to silent film star Vilma Bánky and was later home to singer Stevie Nicks. “An obsession developed,” he admits. The possibilities felt infinite, so after he saw real estate agents hanging a sign, he immediately made an offer.
The house, a project but one of mostly surface fixes, could not have fallen into his hands at a better time. A former creative director and designer for brands including J. Crew and Frette, Formby, then based in Manhattan, had been living a life of corporate travel and needed a break. “I was burned out,” he says, “and I justified buying the house as a creative outlet. I’d be in Toronto—10 degrees—and come back to the hotel and look at auction catalogs. There weren’t any corporate ‘boxes’ around my creativity, and it filled my soul.”
Influences and ideas that had been percolating in his mind came forward “in a stronger way,” he notes. Traveling through India, Thailand and Japan had honed his eye for textiles, but he also has a penchant for midcentury design (hence the Neutra house) and knew he wanted to avoid anything that felt too new. “There’s a comfort level to things that feel lived in,” he notes, distilling the spirit that drove the restoration, which included removing elements not original to the house while updating it with additions like a powder room. “I was trying to see the bigger picture,” says Formby.
He began with the living room, letting its design set the tone for the rest of the house. “My first instinct was to do wallpaper, but I didn’t want an all-over pattern,” he remembers. A friend introduced him to Corinne Gilbert, a decorative painter in Manhattan who has done murals for Bunny Williams, David Easton and Jacques Grange. Together, they envisioned a mirage-like landscape. “It’s a little bit Japanese since we wanted it to feel like a woodcut,” he says, adding that it could almost be a reflection of the palm trees right outside the windows. Palms also carry into the design of two bathrooms, an example of one of the many thematic threads that run neatly through the house. “Repetition connects things,” says the designer, pointing to twin sets of Harvey Probber “scissor” chairs: the natural wood set in the living room and the black-lacquered set in the dining room.
The Probber chairs, too, highlight another thread: Formby’s love of modernism, be it Italian (the dining room table is by Fornasetti) or Mexican. The latter has become something of a passion, inspiring the living room’s brass coffee table by Arturo Pani and pineapple- and bamboo-form lamps by Pepe Mendoza. Vintage rugs are another artform Formby treasures. “I collect 1950s North African rugs—Tuaregrugs made of reed and cane woven with leather. They’re neutral but provide pattern and a little warmth without the woolly texture,” he explains.
And, of course, there is color. Green, Formby’s favorite, graces nearly every space—the living room’s sage sofa, the dining room’s chartreuse walls, or the kitchen’s patinated brass drawer pulls (another Pepe Mendoza find) set with turquoise-green ceramic inlay. Painted a dark charcoal gray, the kitchen “feels romantic,” says the designer. Upstairs, bedrooms were given lighter hues, like the main bedroom’s earthy pink. “It’s pretty but not sweet, and black accents give it an edge,” he adds.
Formby’s many interests resulted in a house that exudes a worldly outlook yet is quintessentially Hollywood. And with the help of landscape designer William Shapiro, the gardens are as lush as the interiors. “It’s pretty and natural,” says Formby of the plantings, noting the cacti that remind him of his Texas childhood. “The history, all of the influences mixing in this house, it’s a little bit of a luxury.”