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STYLE : INTERIORS : Cottage Squeeze

January 09, 1994|LESA SAWAHATA

When artist-photographer Steven Arnold moved from his large Downtown loft to a West Hollywood cottage last year, he faced two major challenges: to give the anonymous, postwar house a sense of style and to maintain his pleasure-palace aesthetic in a relatively small space. He enlisted the help of a friend, Hollywood-based interior designer Vincent Jacquart, to bring the new space "polish, detail and elegance." With the simple addition of paint and fabric, and inspiration from Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali, Jacquart quickly and inexpensively made the transformation.

For Arnold, color is essential, and more is better. The first step, Jacquart says, was selecting a "spiritual" shade of saffron paint, inspired by a Buddhist priest's hand-dyed robe. The brilliant color provides a bright background for Arnold's own jewel-like oil paintings; it unifies other colors and materials--gold, cinnabar, malachite, mother of pearl, coral and crystal--found throughout the house. Jacquart chose an "extremely practical" leopard-print carpet for Arnold, who entertains frequently and wanted something that would camouflage stains. The bathroom is a shocking pink, inspired by Schiaparelli. Coral and Tiffany blue were used as accents in the bedroom and dining room.

During his 15 years in his loft studio, Arnold, a relentless and unapologetic collector, had amassed an abundance of dime-store tchotchkes as well as Venetian antiques. Jacquart culled the best pieces, including curvaceous mirror-image sofas designed by Dali for Gump's in San Francisco in the '30s (especially valuable to Arnold, who was a Dali protege ). Then he arranged the treasures to re-create the old studio's dramatic perspective. The secret? "It's a twist on scale," says the designer, who playfully assembled the tiny with the great. To wit: a pair of gilded Louis XVI children's chairs placed conversation-close to the restored and reupholstered sofas in the living room.

Reliquaries and figurines of saints, bodhisattvas and gods decorate every corner of Arnold's home. "It's all a shrine," the artist says, whether to Kuan Yin, St. Francis of Assisi or Diana Vreeland, his patron saint of style. This all-embracing attitude--and love of the absurd--makes the space special; everything, from the precious to the ridiculous, becomes exalted. "Really," says Arnold, "we giggled the whole time we decorated."

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