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Decorators Orchestrate Transformation of 'Design House'

The event, instrumental to raising funds for New West Symphony, brings a '50s Camarillo ranch house into the '90s.


Wander through the comfortably rambling spread of this year's "Design House," a fund-raiser for the New West Symphony, and you may have to strain to find a musical connection. True, one room has been transformed from a shelf-filled office to a music room, oriented around a piano, with other instruments-as-decor, musical bric-a-brac and a Reinhart paper relief sculpture of chamber musicians at work.

In the main, though, the house is a field day and showcase for area decorators and landscape designers, who have transformed a '50s-era ranch house into altogether something else. "Casual elegance" is the catch phrase decorators were prone to use during a media preview last week. Kathy Hahn, who redid the kitchen, explained that she was going for "a Nantucket-cottage feel, elegant but friendly."

The musical component here has to do with creative fund-raising, a critical aspect of any symphony's operations, especially in the era of leaner, meaner arts budgets. This is the 14th annual Design House, which began during the tenure of the Ventura County Symphony and continues under the aegis of the new, merged, New West Symphony. The project raises money while satisfying the curiosities of visitors, from pragmatic decor buffs to closet voyeurs.

One of the virtues of the design project is that it moves annually to different parts of this varied, sizable county, giving the opportunity to see how the other half lives, and where. Last year, the made-over house sat cozily in a citrus grove in Ojai. This year, the house is in Camarillo's Las Posas Estates, the former standard ranch house of Carol Sirott. Any inconvenience she suffered during the last few months of remodeling and alterations are offset by her home's shiny new patina, without charge and for a good cause.

The house is in one of those surprisingly idyllic quasi-rural corners of Ventura County. A chorus of birds sings, perched in a lush group of unruly trees--not the manicured, government-maintained kind that signify suburban life. The house is but a few minutes from the freeway and a world away from strip malls and junk-food franchises.

Reportedly, this year's project involved the most radical physical make-over to date. Walls were reconfigured in the living room and master bathroom, and the kitchen ceiling was raised. Landscaping was more extensive than usual.

Another basic but cumbersome task in the process of de-suburbanizing the house was to scrape smooth the cottage-cheese ceilings. Sometimes a simple, if labor-intensive, job can greatly change the ambience of a space.

The most theme-driven room in the house is a boy's bedroom designed by Kimberley McCann and called "the Explorer's Bedroom." It is replete with antique maps, stars on the wall and a generally dark, warm atmosphere.

The family room is a warm, inviting space, incorporating faux finishes, tapestries and antiqued images of grapes along a ceiling beam. This room was an 11th-hour element in the project, taken on by a team of nine designers, led by Connie Duffield.

"The first time we walked in here, we were scared," said Carla Kunkel, one of the designers. "It was dark and very closed in. We lightened it up. If I can say that I'd want to live in a room, that's a good sign. And I would."

Jyl Atmore combined different styles in the dining room, including country furniture, an Oriental rug and a formal wood dining table. Overhead, leaves are stenciled on the ceiling, out of which a chandelier seems to blossom.

"People are yearning to get back to a little bit of formality," she explained, "but it has to be practical and comfortable, too." She smiled. "It's a good idea to have an Oriental rug under the table so that if somebody spills something it won't show up."

Ann Cleric and partner Nancy Wolgamott took on the guest house. The most dramatic features are the walls and floor. The walls are speckled with touches of gold leaf and upholstery nail heads, while the floor creates an effective illusion of red tile, with gray grout. Getting rid of the old carpet and carpet glue proved a trying task, requiring razor blades and hands-and-knees effort. "I wanted to quit a hundred times," Cleric commented, obviously happy that she didn't.

In the master-bedroom suite, Mary Kerr Anderson saw fit to alter the ratio of bedroom to bathroom, expanding the latter and focusing on creating "the illusion of a small space being larger" with the use of light colors and mirrors.

She also added a baroque-looking mirror, apropos of nothing besides fashionable eclecticism. "That's Southern California to me," Anderson said, "because there are so many cultures here."

Not everything on the property has been geared toward the pragmatic or "casually elegant." Rare is the ranch home, in the '50s or the '90s, that boasts backyard topiary. Steve and Christine Kam's group of topiary animals and people, behind the swimming pool, includes a shrubbery tribute to Steve's belated father, portrayed sitting on a bench.

All in all, Design House '96 is another intriguing showcase, a worthy diversion for music's sake.


* WHAT: Design House '96.

* WHERE: 60 Ramona Place, Camarillo.

* WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; also 5-8 p.m. Fridays; noon-4 p.m Sundays. Open through June 2.

* HOW MUCH: $15.

* CALL: 656-9479.

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