When newlyweds Sigrid Insull and Bill Lucking set out to create a life and a home together, their differences could have turned marital bliss into a battlefield.
She's a Democrat. He's a Republican. She's a morning person. He works best at night. She reads the front page of the newspaper first. He goes for the comics.
And on the home front: Insull had lived much of her adult life in New York City apartments. Lucking had spent the last 26 years raising a family in rural Santa Paula. She prefers black furnishings and serious art. He favors colors, tie-dye and folk art.
To top it off, both are in their 50s, and neither is likely to change.
"I have a fairly developed sense of personality," said Insull, an interior designer and owner of Sigrid Insull Fine Art & Antiques in Los Angeles. "And Bill can certainly hold his own."
In the end, a willingness to yield made it work.
"When you're newly married, you're willing to compromise," Lucking said. "We're both fascinated with each other, and we really wanted this to work out."
"We both agreed we're starting a new life together," Insull said. "So we compromised."
The first challenge was finding a place to buy. Santa Paula, which is in Ventura County, was too far from the city for her, Los Angeles was too close for him, and the one-bedroom co-op apartment Insull had owned in Pasadena since the early 1990s was too small.
But there was one feature in Insull's second-story apartment that suited them both--its view of a nearby park with its tall trees and expansive lawn. The park reminds her of New York: "It's like living next to Central Park."
The answer arrived when Insull's next-door neighbor put her apartment up for sale. Why not, the couple asked themselves, buy that apartment and combine the two to make a 2,000-square-foot home, with double the view of the park?
A few sketches showed how the two apartments--essentially identical in layout but flip-flopped in orientation--could be attached via a passageway between the kitchens.
Second Living Room
Turned Into Master Suite
Originally, the kitchens were separated at their back doors by a 6-by-4-foot exterior hallway that led to a common stairwell between the two apartments. With the back doors removed, a security door was installed at the top of the stairwell and black vinyl flooring was placed in the passageway to match that in the two kitchens.
The living room of Insull's apartment would remain the living room; a spacious master suite would be created from the living room of the newly purchased apartment.
And while the bedroom in Insull's original apartment would make a nice guest room, the two bedrooms in the new apartment would become offices for each person.
To finance the $30,000 transformation, which would take three months, Insull and Lucking sold off some antiques and treasures.
When they were ready to begin, they put Insull's furnishings in storage and made a fresh start.
"Everything was very dark and cluttered," she recalled. "I like black or taupe, no colors, but very dramatic."
"The longer the fringe, the better," Lucking agreed. "It was like the walls were wallpapered with paintings. It was a little more than I enjoyed."
"There was no fringe," Insull protested. "Well, some fringe."
With Insull's furnishings removed, the reality of the boxy, 1950s-era apartments shone through: "They're about as boring as you can get," Insull said.
But rather than spend a bundle on raised ceilings, altered doorways, new windows, granite counters and other high-ticket items, the couple decided to create affordable beauty in their new home with color, texture and light.
The first task in the remodel, and perhaps the most costly, was adding recessed ceiling lights throughout the home. These replaced the light fixtures in the middle of the ceilings, which reminded the couple of a cheap hotel.
Now, the lights are focused toward the walls and the couple's collections of Buddha statues (hers), masks (his) and paintings (his and hers). The ceiling lights eliminate the need for lamps and electrical cords and can be dimmed.
"At night, it's very romantic," Insull said.
Out With the Black, in With the Green
Also adding romance are the richly hued walls. In the living room, the couple experimented with various yellows, browns and greens, finally settling on celadon, a shade of green traditionally used in Asia, for both the walls and the carpeting.
As a concession to Lucking, Insull had her black couch and chairs reupholstered in a taupe fabric with green fibers running through it.
Covering the living room windows and the entrance to the dining room are draperies of hand-dyed silk.
Not only did Insull's designer connections give her more options, they saved money. The carpeting, for instance, was a discontinued color and was bought at a discounted price. And the couches, chairs and tables are knockoffs of more expensive brands.