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.”