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A Cool House Sans Stuff

The austere, ultramodern home of women's wear designer Shelli Segal is a reaction, she says, to her cluttered work environment.

November 30, 2000|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES FASHION WRITER

Shelli Segal stands behind a huge granite and stainless-steel kitchen counter with built-in refrigerated drawers, others for storage, a trash compactor and a second sink deep enough to reel in the catch of the day.

But the 46-year-old head designer of Laundry, a $100-million contemporary women's line, isn't cooking. There are no pots and pans dangling from a rack, no small appliances plugged into walls, not even a salt or pepper shaker in sight. Hey, it's even difficult to tell where the stove is because the burners are hidden under stainless-steel covers. Forget cookbooks on the windowsill or cutesy scribbles from her 4-year-old twin girls, Dena and Sam, tucked under a magnet on the Sub-Zero frig.

Back at the counter, which has the sleekness of the control deck of the Starship Enterprise, Segal talks about her Burbank home. This, she says, is her house of austerity. No knickknacks. No family photos. No clutter. The bare-bones abode is a concrete, glass, stainless-steel and natural-wood creation, a home that anyone trying to escape or hide piles and stacks of stuff would covet. The books, videos, CDs and magazines are neatly organized behind doors that hide recessed bookcases and cabinets.

She realizes her two-story home may appear spotlessly bald and cold--like a doctor's sterile examining room. To Segal, her home, much like a fashion statement, is bold and ultramodern, minimalist design, just as she planned it with her husband, Moshe Elimelech, 53, and architect Anthony Unruh of Unruh Boyer Architects & Design in Silver Lake. The six-bedroom, five-bath, 4,800-square-foot structure is painted white inside, sparsely furnished and has recessed and natural lighting throughout--the better to show off Elimelech's wildly colorful cube sculpture and abstract art. Says Segal: "It's almost like a gallery."

Knowing the couple wanted to display the art, Unruh says, "I was trying, in a way, to make the house be a backdrop for Moshe's work, which is very modern." The architect also recognized the couple had "certain tastes in furniture, clothing and style, tastes that were very simple and clean, modern and hard. They wanted a contemporary house with an open floor plan and lots of light."

Natural light bathes every inch of the place, thanks to glass walls and a spectacular cathedral-like skylight with remote-controlled awnings--Unruh's idea. The skylight is the focal point of the home and "opens up the house to the downstairs and upstairs," he says. "It's also like stepping into a contemporary version of a courtyard. It gives the house volume."

He also incorporated subtle architectural tricks to make the house appear bigger, such as placing the windows at a slightly higher elevation than the standard, "which makes the rooms seem much taller."

The downstairs floors are concrete--like the fireplace--lacquered in a clear glaze that makes the floor, cracked here and there from the shifting of the house, look like ancient Grecian stone. A downstairs bedroom floor, like those upstairs, is birch. A wall of windows downstairs faces the backyard, which is landscaped with palm trees that cast artful shadows on interior cloth blinds.

"I wanted the feeling of sitting outside, of bringing the outdoors in," Segal says, adding that the house seems more suited to Malibu than near beautiful downtown Burbank.

There's a refined spareness in every room. "With this house I really wanted to keep it pretty stripped-down, clean, almost a clinical kind of environment because I spend my days in chaos at work," Segal says of her downtown Los Angeles office for Laundry, acquired 13 months ago by giant apparel maker Liz Claiborne. "There's fabrics and trims and buttons and cutting and sewing, constant movement of people, constant change and constant clutter everywhere.

"So, you know, I guess that's why some people think this house is cold, but I like just nothingness, no things. I would rather not see anything anywhere," she says, sitting on her sofa, surrounded by, well, not much. Only the bare essentials.

In the living room about 10 pieces of furniture and nothing else--no lamps, no plants--occupy the space. Five hanging artworks by Segal's husband cover the walls. A sleek sofa and matching ottomans are made of synthetic Ultra-suede "because you could bleed on this couch and clean it up," she says.

A couple of curvaceous chairs upholstered in a stretchy lipstick-red fabric complement three pincushion-like chairs that resemble stones ("The kids love them," Segal says). The entertainment center for the television they rarely watch was designed by Elimelech. A dining table is on order. "This is where we eat every night," Segal says, pointing to the twins' table with four tiny chairs, the tabletop barely 14 inches above the kitchen floor.

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