Decorating a historic home, by definition, means honoring the architecture of the past while infusing it with new traditions. And when said home was designed by Wallace Neff, perhaps the most famous Southern California architect of the early 20th century, the task is all the more delicate. Los Angeles designer Betsy Burnham beautifully accomplished that mission for her clients in Pasadena’s historic district. We sat down with her to talk about how she pulled it off.
It’s such an opportunity to decorate a 1927 home by Wallace Neff, the father of “California style.” How did it look when you came on board?
The house was in good condition. It had been decorated previously and taken care of, but it was a little down. The outside was pinky-beige. Inside, there was a lot of wood.
What were your clients looking for?
They asked to be pushed a bit out of their comfort zone. My clients are two gentlemen. They never really asked me for ‘masculine,’ but that was top of mind. There’s a groundedness to both of them that I wanted to bring forward. They also wanted a lot of color–and they let us do some really funky things to the home.
Was there anything in Neff’s architecture that inspired your approach?
It’s a classic Mediterranean. There was a lot of dark brown on the ceilings and floors, and all that red tile, so I used a lot of black and white to provide contrast and keep it energized. I used a lot of olives and browns and reds in the living room, but one of the sofas is a pale ice-blue linen. Maintaining contrast is important–that was something we were looking for.