A Friendship Gives Way To A Fresh Bel Air Home


Looking to start her next chapter professionally and personally, interior designer Sara Story's friend called on her to reimagine her new Bel Air home.

The existing home her client found boasts views to a reservoir.

Interior designer Sara Story created a luminous, art-filled interior in the Bel Air house of longtime friend Gervaise Gerstner. Emmanuel Levet Stenne's Bolchoi console joins his alabaster and yellow onyx sconce in the entrance gallery. Two 1950s chairs from Stamford Modern in Stamford, Connecticut, rest atop a Marc Phillips rug in the living room.

In the entrance gallery, a Mel Bochner painting is above an iron-framed bench by Matthews & Parker. On the floor is a carpet by Woven. "The main focus is the view," says Story. "You walk in and have this beautiful, long hallway looking out to the reservoir. You feel like you're on top of a cliff."

A Heather Chontos painting injects a colorful note in the living room. "I made it monochromatic with layered textures so that it would be a comfortable and inviting space for the family," Story says. The Fritz Neth chair and Blanche Jelly side table were purchased from 1stdibs. Completing the ensemble are a coffee table by Dune and an RH sofa.

"We love L.A.," says Gervaise, who is based in New York and visits California regularly with her daughters. Her younger daughter discovered the listing for the house, which was built in the 1960s and later renovated. Story kept the sofa and existing fire feature for the outdoor seating area.

Story furnished the casual family/dining area with sculptural pieces, such as a Saarinen table and chairs by Augusto Savini with cushions in a Pierre Frey fabric. Nemo Jantzen's DayDreaming is nearby. In the foreground is a sofa, in a Kravet fabric, from 1stdibs, a coffee table by Blackcreek Mercantile & Trading Co. and a wool rug from Woven. In the kitchen, she retained the stone backsplash, from Walker Zanger, and updated the cabinetry with paint. The RH counter stools were upholstered by Monte Allen in Perennials fabric from David Sutherland. "I definitely think less is more," says the interior designer. "It's always easier to add things."

Porter Teleo's Floral Graffiti wallpaper from David Sutherland introduces a dynamic element in the dining room. "Gervaise thought they were never going to use the room, so I thought a dramatic wallcovering could really make you want to be there," says Story. Circa 1960 chairs by John Van Koert in Great Plains fabric from Holly Hunt surround the RH table.

Story transformed the office into a feminine, luxurious space featuring a circa 1966 desk by De Coene and a chair by Warren Platner--all from 1stdibs. Above the custom tufted sofa in a Jane Churchill velvet is a piece by Max Steven Grossman. Farrow & Ball's Calamine covers the walls. Sheer shade fabric by Holland & Sherry filters the light.<

De Gournay wallpaper brings a vibrant, fresh feel to the powder room. "Since powder rooms are so small, they're a fun place to be really adventurous," says Story. The custom mirror is by Soane.

Framed by draperies in a Fortuny fabric, the master bedroom's view focuses on Stone Canyon Reservoir. C&C Milano fabric accented with Great Plains trim from Holly Hunt is on the ottoman. A photo of Marilyn Monroe by Bert Stern hangs against a Studio E wallcovering. On the bed is a Coyuchi blanket from Nickey Kehoe. The carpet is from Woven.

I know how to make a face pretty, but I don’t know how to make a room pretty,” admits dermatologist Gervaise Gerstner. Luckily, she counts interior designer Sara Story among her close friends. Over the years, Story has redone two of the doctor’s New York City apartments along with her bustling Park Avenue office. “Sara is so elegant,” notes Gervaise. “She just adds a splash to everything she does.” Story credits curated design as the key to producing that splash. “I like finding pieces with a strong point of view and giving them room to breathe,” she says. “When you go into a space I’ve designed, I hope you pick up something new each time, that there’s a sense of intrigue and that it’s inspiring. A space should evolve.”

The duo recently completed their third residential collaboration, a sunny getaway in Bel Air. Gervaise visits California twice a month, often with her teenaged daughters, Grace and Olivia, and as much as they’ve enjoyed their stays at The Beverly Hills Hotel, she envisioned a more permanent base. When a 1960s house in the hills boasting floor-to-ceiling views came on the market, she let Story know she had a new project for her. The interior designer, whose schedule is packed with major renovations and ground-up builds, welcomed the chance to work together again. “It’s such a beautiful house architecturally: very clean, crisp and tailored,” she says. “And it was fun to play with paint colors, wallcoverings and light fixtures, and do the furniture.”

For Gervaise’s Bel Air house, Story drew up a plan for an interior that would be warm and welcoming, with a mostly monochromatic palette expressed through materiality and accented by sculptural furnishings as well as Gervaise’s growing art collection. The endeavor progressed quickly, as the interior designer relied on her insights into her client’s taste as well as the presentations Grace and Olivia put together for their rooms.

The long entrance gallery, which leads to a vista of a nearby reservoir, sets the tone. There, alabaster and yellow onyx sconces and a pair of marble and lacquered aluminum consoles, all by Emmanuel Levet Stenne, join a handblown mirror by Jeremy Maxwell Wintrebert. Shades of white prevail in the adjacent living room, yet it’s anything but sterile. Covered in tactile fabrics, the sofas, the Fritz Neth easy chairs and the 1950s lounge chairs with brass legs invite the family and their guests to settle in and enjoy the view. Story accessorized with a delightfully chunky, hand-sculpted plaster occasional table; a custom coffee table featuring a high-gloss top on a blackened-steel base; and a glazed ceramic sculpture above the fireplace, which brings to mind a waving sea anemone.

The stylish mix continues in the rest of the house. The office, a popular gathering spot, is an alluring space highlighted by blush-toned walls, a white lacquered desk and a sofa in pale pink velvet. “Everyone gravitates to it,” says Gervaise. The minimal master bedroom is an inviting haven, with a faux-bois Venetian plaster wallcovering, a sheared mohair rug and a pair of barrel chairs and an ottoman in soft hues.

As an interior designer who has created her own line of wallpaper, Story loves what pattern can do for a space. So, to complement the monochromatic color scheme, she made several eye-catching choices, including a large-scale floral abstract by Porter Teleo in the dining room. Done in layers of richly pigmented ink on handmade Japanese paper, the freeform pink and white blooms appear to melt onto a brown field. “The walls are almost like another personality; they give the room energy and atmosphere,” she says. A vibrant de Gournay design of anemones adorns the powder room, while a reflective paper emblazoned with cherries covers the ceiling of Gervaise’s white-walled dressing room–previously a dark, masculine space. “She’s so full of life, such a breath of fresh air, and these reminded me of her,” says Story.

In contrast to the airy feel in most of the rooms, Story chose lacquered black walls and plush black velvet sofas for the “cozy and enveloping” screening room, a favorite destination for the family. “A second home can be a bit more whimsical,” she says. “You’re a little freer.” Gervaise, who hopes to expand her dermatology practice, along with wellness and beauty ventures on both coasts, agrees: “This house is my Zen zone. Los Angeles is my happy place, and now I have somewhere to entertain my friends and embrace a new chapter in my life.”