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The Winds of Change

A Movie Producer Gets Swept Up in Remodeling and Landscaping Her 1920s Bungalow in Silver Lake

November 18, 2001|SUSAN HEEGER

Four years ago, caitlin scanlon was walking in her silver lake neighborhood when she spied a for-sale sign down the street. Curious, she climbed the steps to a 1920s Mediterranean-style bungalow and, just then, the wind blew the front door open. "It was destiny," says Scanlon, an independent film producer, remembering how she stood in the living room as if invited, admiring large windows and wood floors and the purity of a house that had never been remodeled. Within weeks she was living there, debating paint colors, replastering walls and hunting down vintage tiles to brighten bathroom and kitchen.

But these, she admits, were minor cosmetic details. What really needed her attention was the garden, where the former owner had battled overgrowth with a chain saw for the past 60 years. "When I moved in," Scanlon recalls, "I couldn't walk outside in back. This giant plumbago leaped out from the hillside to the wall of the house. And no one knew what was under it."

A transplanted New Yorker much attached to the outdoors, Scanlon had to have a garden. In fact, she says, "It wasn't like me to fall so hard for a house that I ignored the yard. I'd always grown roses and tomatoes."

Luckily, her best friend, Judy Kameon, a Los Angeles garden designer, came to the rescue, bringing a crew to clear the hill and joking afterward, "Good news. There's room for a pool and tennis court back there." Or at least, the women decided, a deck for lounging and a flight of stairs that would lead uphill to a secret, grassy terrace.

First, though, to prevent the earth from tumbling down, they had to plant the naked slope. Considering how steep and rocky it was, Kameon chose tough, fast-growing plants that wouldn't need much maintenance: prostrate rosemary, variegated ivy, assorted succulents and ornamental grasses. For the color accents Scanlon wanted, she added dark-pink arctotis, 'Bush Dawn' kangaroo paws and purple Verbena rigida. Scanlon's favorite roses ('McCartney,' 'Oklahoma,' 'Just Joey' and 'Stainless Steel') wound up on the hilltop terrace, along with cooking herbs and a fountain Kameon calls "a reward for hiking up all those stairs."

The sheer number of those stairs, which lend a ceremonial edge to the naturalistic planting, testify to the difficulty of the site: During the garden's installation, one member of Kameon's crew had to rope himself to a tree and rappel downhill, digging holes for plants tossed to him from above.

But once these plants took hold and knitted together, they created new views from the house that Scanlon captured by replacing windows with French doors. And inspired by the outdoor palette, she became "braver" with color inside, adding more browns, greens and reds to rooms predominantly white and pale gray. "I tend to like things simple and clean," she says, "with modern lines and changeable details that evolve as I travel and collect and have new experiences."

Over time, she has added vintage Chinese chests and other accent pieces to mid-century standards such as a Heywood Wakefield dining table and chairs. In her living room, she chose white-denim slipcovers for a '50s club chair and a daybed she designed, finishing the look with oversized cushions in shiny Dupioni silk.

"Comfort is really the most important theme here," explains Scanlon, whose producing credits include the teen-crowd hit "Bring it On." "I spend a lot of time on the phone, working, reading, thinking. But I'm in a place I love."

Kameon, who has known Scanlon since she moved west in 1987, loves it too. "We have the same taste," she says. They also have the same plans for Scanlon's house and garden, now that both are finished. Says Kameon, "She's going to start having parties."

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