If anything can turn a traditionalist into a modernist, it’s the Southern California landscape and the indoor-outdoor lifestyle that comes with it. Count designer Trevor Howells’ friends-turned-clients–an East Coast couple who’d always preferred traditional aesthetics–as two of modernism’s latest converts. “They’d always gravitated toward classic fabrics, wing chairs and paneling,” Howells says. “But when they decided to make a home here, they looked at a modern house and its simplicity just spoke to them.”
His clients were seeking a West Coast abode where they could eventually retire and fell for a sculptural contemporary by XTEN Architecture in Beverly Hills. Boasting white plaster walls and limestone floors, “The living room is giant with 40-foot-wide doors that slide open and disappear into the wall,” Howells says. “On one side, it’s completely open to the swimming pool, and on the other, it’s open to the spa. There are views all the way to the Pacific Ocean.”
Before they closed on the house, though, the couple called Howells for advice. “They wanted to know what I thought,” says the designer, who had worked with the couple’s daughter when he was the senior creative director at Ralph Lauren Home in New York. “They weren’t looking for just an interior designer,” he adds, explaining that they had previously collaborated with the late designer Greg Jordan, whom Howells also knew. “He became like part of their family,” he says. “They wanted someone, like Greg, who’s close to them and knows them well.”
Once the house was theirs, the couple commissioned Howells to fill the rooms with richly textured furnishings and a neutral palette that would instill warmth and not compete with their art collection. “They bought a lot of the art for the house in New York, but I helped them purchase some in L.A., too,” he says. Black-and-white photography, which includes work by Brian Duffy, Willy Ronis and Weegee, all hails from Peter Fetterman Gallery and mingles happily with lively modern paintings.
Howells describes the house as “having a kind of Getty Center feel” to the rooms, so he layered in furnishings to offset potential severity. However, the designer shares, “All of the layers are sort of quiet–they don’t fight with anything.” Colors are muted but textures are rich, accented by greenery to soften spaces without demanding attention. To create spots where the clients and guests could sit and have conversations, he arranged intimate furniture groupings within the same sizable room.
In the living area, he divided the expansive space in two. On one side, he placed a selection of pieces from Rose Tarlow Melrose House, including a sofa wrapped in stone-washed linen; an 18th-century reclining chair covered in antique French linen; a Georgian caned lounge chair; and a lacquered coffee table with a crackled finish. The large-scale abstract paintings by Syd Solomon that hang on the wall are drenched in riotous color and lend vibrancy and interest. A second seating area features a vintage raffia screen concealing a projector. “They can turn the space into a screening room in a matter of minutes,” says Howells, who selected a parchment-colored linen sectional and a large metal coffee table–reminiscent of a Donald Judd sculpture–for the area.
While the living room contains furnishings that lean traditional, the family room showcases contemporary textures and silhouettes. Low-slung, braided rope chairs with vintage denim-wrapped seat cushions, a multicolored kilim and a sofa upholstered in French linen evoke a quintessentially California sensibility. “I love anything that feels a little more natural,” Howells says. “The family room is the most casual space and where they gather for morning coffee and talk.” The designer injected similar notes when he devised the library, where a custom Mondrian-style oak bookshelf and a Barcelona daybed add a quality that’s at once cozy and rich.
In the casual dining area, Howells paired vintage Ralph Lauren Home director’s chairs with a glass and brass table. “Those chairs had been haunting me for 20 years,” he says. “The clients wanted some and I told them I could have them delivered that day,” noting that he found the set at the venerable L.A. dealer J.F. Chen. When Howells conceived the formal dining room, he went in a more idiosyncratic direction, suspending a Cloud chandelier by Apparatus above a contemporary walnut table and 1940s Italian walnut side chairs. He also placed a midcentury marquetry sideboard depicting a medieval town scene in the manner of Osvaldo Borsani and a pair of geometric steel and brass lamps by Lika Moore. “My clients love modern now, but they’ve always loved the warmth of traditional style,” Howells says. “In this house, there’s nearly every decade, every style. It runs the gamut. All of the pieces talk to each other in a way that’s eclectic but not frenetic. It’s a mix of the things they love.”