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Home Dwelling on The Past

An Interior Designer Lends an Understated Elegance to a Former Marlon Brando Residence

April 29, 2001|BARBARA THORNBURG

Interior designer janet polizzi lives and works in a 1926 Spanish Art Deco home with a Hollywood pedigree. It was once the villa of actor Marlon Brando, and Polizzi loves to show first-time visitors the photograph of the actor standing in the entry and holding his Oscar for "On the Waterfront." "I always tell people the house was once owned by him--maybe someday he'll stop by." Longtime neighbors still refer to the home as "The Brando House."

When the actor lived in the house in the mid-50s with first wife Anna Kashfi, the living room sported floral-covered wing chairs and Venetian blinds. A mural of bongo players decorated a stairwell leading to a downstairs recreation room where Brando once played his own set. By the time Polizzi arrived, the bongo mural had disappeared and lavender wall-to-wall shag carpet covered the dining room floor. She began imprinting the house in her own style by painting the circular core of the home, which ends in a tower, in a dramatic terra-cotta hue on both the walls and ceiling. Adjacent rooms were kept matte white for a neutral gallery backdrop to show off her collection of global furnishings and antiques.

Polizzi also accentuated architectural elements within the house, outlining an archway and window trim in the living room with a faded rose that matched the color of the fireplace stone. In the dining room, a 10-inch terra-cotta band surrounds the entry arch in a manner reminiscent of homes in Mexico and Spain. Stripping the shag from the dining room floor, the designer discovered handsome quartersawn-oak floors, which she sanded and polished. In addition, she restored the original magnesite floors in the entry, living room and library. Commonly used in the '20s as a finishing surface on concrete floor slabs, the magnesite resembles grouted terra-cotta tiles. "We rubbed color into the magnesite, then finished it with a flat sealer to keep it looking rich," she explains.

Upstairs, disappointed with the flat ceiling over the master bedroom, Polizzi took advantage of the peaked roof to gain three feet and create an 11-foot vaulted ceiling. "It gives the room an amazing lift as well as sense of spaciousness," she says.

But "Palazzo Polizzi," as she jokingly calls her pedigreed home, revolves around the understated, elegant decor. A pared-down, eclectic collection of modern and ethnic furnishings from around the world fills the five-story house that spills down a hillside in Hollywood. The master bedroom alone is a United Nations of furnishings: a Japanese vanity, Moroccan chair, Persian rug, Kashmir drapery and Chinese wedding cabinet. Amid the international grouping stands a modest green Southwestern chair. "I loved the color," says Polizzi who is known for her mix of patterns and use of color. "It's not an important piece, but it just felt right." The designer's collections of antique accessories are as far-ranging as the furnishings. An imperial yellow Chinese jar sits next to a stucco Indian Gandharan head dating from 400-600 AD. A gilt Art Deco mirror she bought locally hangs in the center of a bedroom wall draped for seclusion as well as drama. Elsewhere in the house, Mexican santos and Portuguese chests mingle with 2nd century Roman glass and early Syrian pottery. "I like to mix beautiful, interesting pieces whatever they are. Early things hold a strong intrigue for me," says Polizzi. "I love the romance."

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