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Passing the Taste Test

Design magazines find O.C. dwellings make the grade as model homes affordable to the average Joe.


When Jeri Cunningham opened the doors of her Craftsman bungalow in Orange to photographers from For Women First magazine, she expected them to rearrange her possessions and maybe move the furniture. She did not expect them to move the earth.

Using lights and reflectors, the crew made sunshine stream through the north-facing window of her kitchen, where no sunlight had been seen before. Stylists also made her roses bloom in December by wiring artificial flowers to the bare branches, took down all her holiday decorations and even moved the Christmas tree.

All this to make it look like springtime in winter at her 85-year-old cottage.

"It was total chaos, except for the vignettes they were shooting," Cunningham says. "It took me two weeks to clean up."

Despite the upheaval, Cunningham would welcome another such home invasion.

Indeed, not only will her home be seen in an upcoming issue of First, photos of the cottage are splashed across eight pages of the March issue of Romantic Homes.

Some say having one's home immortalized in a magazine is the ultimate compliment, a testimony to the homeowner's good decorating taste. Yet as Cunningham--whose interest in decorating home and garden led her to start a design firm, Geraldine's Attic--can vouch, making it into a magazine requires much more than a sense of color or a knack for window treatments.

Sunday Hendrickson, contributing editor of Victoria magazine, scouts out homes and orchestrates photo shoots for Victoria, McCall's, Romantic Homes, First and other supermarket magazines. She's the one who led Romantic Homes and First to Cunningham's door.

Magazines receive loads of requests from people wanting them to feature their homes, Hendrickson says. Editors usually insist on seeing photographs of the residence before sending someone out to scout the location.

Hendrickson has conducted enough of these "scout shoots" to know that many homes don't pan out into magazine material. Once she was sent to scout a "Christmas house" in Pacific Palisades:

"It was scary. There had to be 30 million Christmas things in that house," she says. "Her bedroom was all white Santas. The other room was all Mickey Mouses. I kind of backed out the door."


On a recent morning, Hendrickson checked out a 60-year-old Spanish-style home in Tustin owned by Vivian Heredia. Heredia's home is so cleverly decorated that Hendrickson is taking pictures of it to show to several magazine editors.

Heredia describes her eclectic decor as "more Mexican with a little bit of California." Her possessions reflect her personality and heritage (her father is from Mexico).

In a small niche above the fireplace, she displays a rosary, a gilded religious grotto, old crosses and a rock she found in Big Sur. Hand-painted Mexican tiles adorn the kitchen floor. The vintage tablecloths that cover an easy chair have a Mexican motif.

Hendrickson wanders through the rooms and garden with her camera, snapping pictures of features she thinks the magazines will like. "So often, the homes aren't personal. This one is," she says.

Anyone with money can hire an interior designer to create a spectacular living space. Those homes may make the pages of an upscale publication such as Architectural Digest, but supermarket decorating magazines want homes that reflect the creativity of the average American homeowner, not an interior design firm.

"Decorating magazines aren't interested in the $3-million house, they're interested in seeing something unique, creative and personal," Hendrickson says. "Vivian has a lot of homemade things, and she uses things in a different way than they were intended. They inspire and teach readers."

The windows of Heredia's living room are covered in ivory-colored drapes that upon closer inspection turn out to be woven blankets.

Couches and chairs have slipcovers made of vintage chenille bedspreads and linens. In the guest bath, a porcelain sink stands on a pair of sawed-off table legs. In the den are wooden candlesticks made of old balusters pulled from a porch.

Heredia loves bright Mexican colors and uses them fearlessly.

She's painted the home's stucco exterior a deep salmon-pink hue with purple and mango trim. The walls of the guest bath gleam with black enamel painted on textured wall paper, creating a look similar to an old-fashioned copper ceiling. Heredia's brother and father paved the floor of the master bath in red, gold, blue and teal tiles. The kitchen walls are color-blocked in vivid shades of yellow, fuchsia and purple.

"The painter didn't believe it would work," Heredia says.

It does. Hendrickson loves the effect, and she knows that magazine editors love homes with a lot of color too.

"Vivian's colors are so intense and unusual," she says, "and the textures are wonderful."

Next, Hendrickson will send her photos to the magazines. If the editors decide to feature Heredia's home, she'll be back with a professional photographer and crew.

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