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DESIGN: Ventura County

Rooms Worth a View

New West Symphony fund-raiser gives area decorators plenty of space to express themselves.


It's that time of year again, when designers get down to work, for music's sake. Visitors to "Design House '97," open to the public tonight and running through June 1, might be motivated by different interests.

They may be keen to check on the work of local decorators, for instance, or driven by sheer voyeurism. But either way, they can rest assured that the price of admission will help the cause of classical music.

This year's event, in a 5-year-old home in Camarillo, will be the 15th annual "Design House" benefit, an important fund-raiser for a symphony which has survived even the change of the county's orchestral landscape. The event began when the Ventura County Symphony was in full flower, and continued, by force of its success, when that ensemble morphed into the current New West Symphony two years ago.

As always, one of the sideline intrigues of "Design House" projects is the access it provides to sometimes remote corners of the county. Part of the charm has to do with discovering neighborhoods we may not have known existed.

In "Design House '97," the neighborhood in question is still a work-in-progress. This year's model sits in the Bella Vista development, in a once-agricultural niche of Camarillo. To get there, take the Central Avenue exit off the Ventura Freeway, north past stretches of agricultural land dotted with majestic eucalyptus trees. Visitors can't help but reflect on that growing phenomenon in Southern California, the gated community, built on principles of paranoia and nostalgia for the community ethic.

Social observations aside, the house is a variation on semi-indigenous Mediterranean motifs common to the area. The most dramatic feature inside is the entryway, which centers the architectural layout of the house. It is an octagonal foyer lined with Tuscan columns, vaulting upward with a high ceiling.

In this space, "Design House" veteran Cathleen Smith worked out an inventive solution to what she perceived as a spatial problem. "The height was too extreme," Smith said, pointing to an elaborate trellis system which, when the ivy is interlaced, will effectively bring the head room down to a more intimate level. This vegetation, combined with a faux finish on the formerly white walls, gives the indoor space an outdoor, garden-like ambience.

Smith created the trellis with PVC pipe painted to give it the appearance of copper, but with the flexibility and easily manipulated quality of plastic. "This was something I had in my head," she commented about the unusual material. "I woke up at 2 a.m. and started working on this."

Because the project draws a variety of designers with different instincts and senses of style, the house becomes a patchwork of creations. On a walking tour of the house, the feel of each room changes, according to the creative whims of the individual designer. There is a huge contrast, for instance, between the small living room designed by Elizabeth Alexander, and the "Magnolia Room" by Midge Haerterich.

In the latter, Haerterich has created a strictly unified room with floral touches on the fabrics and including the walls and furniture, inspired by a visit to South Carolina. "I wanted that Southern bed-and-breakfast feel," she commented. "I came at it from that old-fashioned designer idea of tying it all together. I think that's coming back. Everything does; look at lime green."

The living room, on the other hand, is a spare and elegant space with French and Oriental touches, one that is "eclectic, because that's who I am," Alexander said. Part of her challenge, in terms of designing the small room, was to find "a focal point" in a room without a fireplace, and so arranged furniture in a central core.

There is a fireplace in the master bedroom suite in the back of the house, which has been treated with an antique-like faux finish, along with the rest of the suite. Designed by Ann Cleric and Nancy Wolgamott, it's a plush room, dark and dramatic, with heavy, ornate mirrors, and, most strikingly, a teak angel perched like a guardian over the bed.

Pointing to the bare, white photograph of the space before they got busy redesigning, Wolgamott said, "We consulted the owners on color preferences, but basically started with an open palette." That kind of creative license can be a welcome change for designers, who would normally have greater responsibility to a client's wishes. As Cleric explained, "You can keep going with ideas, and don't have to wonder, 'Hmm, will she like this?' "

The concept for Laura Crary's "Plaid and Paisley Suite" began with a humble swatch of plaid fabric. "I started with this fabric and worked up from there," she commented. "I wanted it to have a bit of a masculine feel. It's almost architectural. I like a simple room. Cluttered room, cluttered mind."

Meanwhile, in the dining room, Jone Pence has turned a spare, white room into a celebration of "yellows and eggplants" and added crown molding and tube lighting to the ceiling. To emphasize her deliberate Italianate atmosphere, she commissioned architect-painter Curtis Cormane to create a series of paintings of Italian scenes, with colors complementary to the room's palette.


"Design House '97," presented by the New West Symphony, at 3213 Calle de Debesa in Camarillo, will be open Wed.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Fri., 5-9 p.m.; and Sun., noon-4 p.m.; through June 1. Tickets are $16 at the door. For directions and parking information, call (805) 655-5613.

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