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SOCAL STYLE / Home and Garden

Picture Perfect

A photographer's hillside retreat takes shape with minimal furnishings and maximal flowers

July 18, 1999|JUDY PROUTY

When Amy Neunsinger first walked into this house high on a hill off a winding road in Laurel Canyon, she knew it was perfect. Neunsinger, a photographer with an apartment in New York and a busy travel schedule, wanted a rental in move-in condition that evoked a country retreat. Although small, the house benefited from high ceilings, a large skylight that floods the living room with sunshine and a generous terrace where Neunsinger envisioned a lush flower garden.

She painted the interior, choosing tones with an artist's eye. "I tried to stay with muted natural colors," says Neunsinger, who has a degree in architecture. "Lots of light comes into these rooms, and the neutral tones tend to hold the color when the light hits." Against this backdrop Neunsinger arranged a mix of contemporary and Asian furniture, and photographs and objects acquired over the years from near and far. The living room alone features a mohair sofa by Los Angeles designer Eric Troop, a leather armchair by B&B Italia, a blond wood coffee table purchased at a Paris flea market for about $30; a pair of 19th century Chinese chairs and an 18th century Chinese tea table made of golden elm. Says Neunsinger: "The room is so geometric that I liked big, oversized furniture and a minimal mixture with luxurious fabrics: mohair, leather and sisal."

In the bedroom, which she painted pale blue, green and gray, Neunsinger chose a platform bed with a ledge that doubles as a bookshelf. "This room is so small that I decided I was going to put an oversized bed in it and make it all about the bed," she says. "My taste is simple. I don't have lace."

On the terrace, Neunsinger, who is currently working on a book of flower portraits, planted an old-fashioned cutting garden in clay pots so that she can take it with her when she moves. Cosmos, pansies, lavender, hollyhocks, hydrangeas, bougainvillea and wisteria bloom in blue, lavender, white and pink. "I have an aversion to yellow," she notes. At one end of the terrace, she added chairs and a rustic bench; at the other, against the hillside where climbing roses perfume the air, she set out a table for alfresco dining. "The house had such hard edges that I thought the garden needed a softness," she says. "I wanted a cozier feeling with an overgrown sensibility, just like an English garden at a house in the country."

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What Amy Neunsinger likes:

* Celadon bowls--"My sister who lived in Bangkok started my collection."

* Alfred Stieglitz's photographs of Georgia O'Keeffe's hands.

* Portraits by photographer Donald Graham.

* Always going barefoot, even in a Gucci gown at her wedding.

* The pencil drawings of Lucian Freud.

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