HULA SKIRTS,car jacks, doormats, surfboards and a cut-in-half catamaran. Do these sound like the appropriate materials for a chic Santa Monica Canyon interior-design project? Los Angeles designer-builder Brian Murphy has a knack for the unconventional. Most recently, he has taken a 1926 beach bungalow in Santa Monica Canyon and turned the 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom structure into a roomy 3,500-square-foot, two-story home with five bedrooms and 4 1/2 baths. (His previous home--he rebuilds, then moves on--was a five-story tower rising from a canyon floor; four bridges leading to various levels connected the contemporary tree house to the road.) On this ocean-view cottage, Murphy's boldest stroke of renovation was to essentially hollow out the core of the house, creating a skylighted atrium. Then he planted banana trees at the bottom, which have quickly soared more than two stories high. He converted a downstairs garage into several bedrooms and added a new garage at the side of the house. But even an experienced designer-builder can quickly use up his own budget. "I had about $300 left for interior design," the blond, suntanned Murphy admits with a laugh, "so I guess you could say I had to be resourceful."
Murphy has pulled some highly inventive cheap tricks in decorating that result in a slick, sophisticated take on the Beach Boy-era beach cottage. Wall sconces and room dividers have been fashioned from grass hula skirts bought at Pier 1. Surfboards have been turned into chairs. On a more expensive note, Murphy lined the walls of the airy kitchen with white cabinets edged in a Memphis-pattern laminate. He reversed the concept on the kitchen island with its crazy-quilt laminate doors. In the master bedroom, a wall has been left purposely unfinished, "a vestige of the original building," he explains. The giant banana trees in the atrium are visible from almost every room. "Think of the house as a giant stairway," he says enthusiastically. About the only thing missing from this indigenous Southern California beach cottage is Gidget.