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Whittier 'Mystery House' Transformed Into Showcase of Interior Design Trends

April 26, 1987|BETH UYEHARA | Times Staff Writer

WHITTIER — After three months of hard work and a year of planning, this year's Cinderella house--a.k.a. the Whittier Design House '87--will open for visitors today with a reservations-only gala.

More than 7,000 people are expected to tour the redecorated York estate Tuesdays through Sundays before it closes May 24, contributing about $48,000 to the coffers of the Whittier Historical Society. About 5,000 people toured the first, and only previous, Whittier Design House in 1985, netting $30,000 to benefit the Whittier Museum.

When the exhibit closes, the stylish furniture and glitzy accessories will be removed, and the house will revert to what it was before its glamorous transformation: the private residence of Diane York, the granddaughter of oilman Victor York who purchased the 1911 Craftsman-style home in 1935 from its original owner, pioneer oilman William L. Plotts.

Visitors to the exhibit will get a rare opportunity to see firsthand a historic home, long considered a "mystery house" in the area, York said. In the 20 years after her grandfather's death, she said, her grandmother permitted no one but family members in the house.

Hillside View to Ocean

If the weather is clear, visitors also will have a spectacular view to the ocean from the home's hillside site. Even more important for many will be the chance to see the latest trends in interior decorating.

The house is a kind of designers' wish list. Each of the participating designers was responsible for one of 15 specific rooms or areas and had almost free rein. The only restriction was that the decor must utilize the basic color scheme.

Unlike ordinary redecorating projects, the designers did not have to consider the owner's taste, life style or budget. The only times York was consulted were for structural changes that she helped pay for, such as the kitchen, which was gutted and redesigned from scratch. York said she is generally happy with the transformation--with some exceptions.

"Some of the rooms, I'll be eager to get back to normal; some, I've been pleasantly surprised by," she said.

The living room's thickly upholstered wall covering, which is Kelly green with a marble-vein pattern--and which Les Braunstein, design coordinator, said "oozes money,"--will be among the first to go. "I like to come home to a more subdued setting," York said. But, she added, her grandparents would probably love that room. "My grandparents had the living room very dark: three drapes on every window, and dark Oriental rugs."

No attempt has been made to restore the house to its original character, Braunstein said. Although the structure is a typical example of a Craftsman home of the period, its main significance is the people who have lived there, he said: "They are important to the history of Whittier."

Victor York was known for his civic and philanthropic work, and donated land for Penn Park, York Field and a riding academy to the City of Whittier. Plotts, who built the house, helped develop the East Whittier oil field in 1899.

"If this had been a noteworthy home architecturally," Braunstein said, "it wouldn't have been chosen. This is meant to be a showcase for designers' talent. We don't have showrooms where you can come in and kick tires. That's what this is all about. For the decorators, it's a business opportunity; for the historical society, it's a fund-raiser; for the owner, it's a tremendous bonanza." Part of the bonanza, he said, is the structural work done at cost and about $25,000 in donated materials that will remain with the house.

However, Braunstein said that the freedom to please only themselves was actually "a curse," not a blessing, for the decorators.

"It's much harder having no parameters, so they tend to overdo. It's a constant struggle to hold back," he said. As design coordinator, he had issued a set of general guidelines for the decorators, "which were promptly ignored by everybody," he said.

The designers have used their freedom to create fantasy effects and a sense of trendy elegance. The palette for the home was derived from stained glass doors on the living room bookcases. Braunstein said the colors, which are variations of mint green, raspberry and cream, are the "leading edge" in interior design today.

Overall, the house is a riot of patterns, with wallpapers, stenciling, stippling, trompe l'oeil and murals on walls, ceilings, door frames and floors. The staircase area alone boasts four assertive wallpaper patterns from the first-floor hall to the second story. Even the green wall-to-wall carpeting upstairs has had patterns and stripes inlaid into it.

For York, the design house experience has meant moving the contents of a 6,000-square-foot home twice in five months. She has been living with her sister during the redecorating process, visiting the house daily to pick up her mail, feed her two cats and check out the latest transmogrification.

When the decorators and the public depart, York will be faced with the task of moving her own furnishings back into the home and restoring its "light, country feeling," she said.

York said she agreed to give up her home for five months after being impressed by the first Whittier Design House two years ago. Also, she said, she got caught up in the Whittier Centennial.

"I don't have great financial resources, but my grandfather was a community person, and this seemed like a contribution I could make. I've had times when I wasn't sure I made the right decision," she said, "but (through this) I've met a lot of people who've put in hundreds and hundreds of hours as a gift to the city."

The house is at 7722 York Ave. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, and until 8 p.m. Fridays. Tickets are $10 at the door.

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