For the would-be home decorator, the empty rooms of a new house can be as unsettling as a blank sheet of paper poking out of a writer's typewriter. Each is a tabula rasa, and anything that goes on or in them carries an indelible, individual creative mark. It can be enough to produce a fair case of the jitters.
Those walls and empty rooms can be particularly formidable because, unlike the writer who can wad up his mistakes, throw them away and begin again, homeowners must live with their rooms day after day. And if they happen to live in a tract home, with several houses with identical floor plans in the same neighborhood, the creative task can be magnified. How do you create a distinctively decorated room that carries your personal mark when the room you're working with has exactly the same dimensions as three or four others on your block?
The Times asked three owners of homes with identical floor plans in the new Normandale Heights tract in El Toro how they solved the problem with their living rooms.
The results of their decorating labors were three highly singular and personal rooms in three distinct styles, reflecting an eye for the colorful, the unusual and the harmonious, and encompassing furniture from contemporary to solidly traditional.
John and Kathy Shoffeitt
An insurance agent who said that she always has had an eye for interior design, Kathy Shoffeitt was the prime mover behind the bright, highly colorful and contrasting furnishings in her living room, an inviting mixture of traditional and understated modern pieces. She said she was inspired after studying the furnishings of similar model homes in Orange.
"They were decorated kind of in the way I'd envisioned, and that helped me," she said. "A lot of times you get into a model, and it looks absolutely fabulous, and then you go into the actual house--actually move in--and there are these white walls. But the decorator (of the Orange models) had the same feel I was looking for: a real bright, fresh look, but homey and comfortable. I wanted real dark woods and real light, bright fabrics, since the room lends itself to this. It has a lot of windows and a lot of light."
Her first task, she said, was to decide on basic colors, and she provided herself with plenty of latitude. She picked a sofa with multicolored floral fabric covering.
"This sofa set the tone for everything in the house," she said. "Also, I'd never used purples before, and it's fun using a totally different color like that." That color is incorporated in the sofa as well as in cloth table coverings in the living room.
With such a varied pallet to work from, Shoffeitt filled the room with bursting colors: cushioned armchairs and an ottoman in light green-and-white companion fabric, a round fabric-covered lamp table, floor-standing green plants and a sea-foam green carpet. A square glass-topped Queen Anne coffee table is the centerpiece of the room, and a tall secretary in the same style anchors one wall. Another round lamp table also provides dark wood for contrast.
A mirror above the couch provides depth and framed rose prints provide more color, along with drapes made from the same material as the couch.
A happy plus: Shoffeitt said she found many of the items in the room at cut prices.
"We went all over, and we were able to really shop the sales," she said.
Richard and Helen Wilson
The Wilsons have managed to acquire, over the years, an eclectic mix of furnishings with a combination of usefulness, beauty and sentimental value that make for a harmonious living room. There's no trick to it, Helen Wilson said.
"We've just gone with what looks good to us"--without an attempt to have a homogenous style, she said. "If I find something I like, I just get it. Also, a lot of the pieces here have meaning for us. I think it's important to use things that have meaning and value."
An antique tea cart and table in the dining room, for instance, belonged to her grandmother, Wilson said, and crystal pieces on the glass-topped country French coffee table once belonged to her great-grandparents.
It was the 15-year-old coffee table, she noted, "that got me started on country French style and traditional furniture. I just like curves in the pieces and furniture that's fun to look at."
But not only country French, she said. Nearly any style is fair game if it looks good in the room. The chess set on the coffee table, for instance, is African, a gift from her husband's sister.
The brightest pieces in the room are a matching sofa and love seat covered in apricot fabric with a bright floral pattern. Two wing chairs in apricot sit on opposite sides of the room. Color is also added through use of a green-plaid tablecloth covering a round occasional table near the stairway.
And there is a second tea cart next to the love seat.
"I guess I just like tea carts," Wilson said. "I feel pieces need to be functional."