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Design 2002

Double Vision

How opinionated taste makers can share the same space

September 19, 2002|SUSAN FREUDENHEIM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

She was an American expatriate who had moved to Paris after graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute, a romantic who loved the flourishes of the Neoclassical and Baroque periods. He was French, known for his spare designs for industrial-style furnishings and for an award-winning series of fashion shops around the world. They fell in love. It could have been a design nightmare.

But, though they thought they were pretty well set in their ways, they surprised themselves.

"We met later in life," says Erica Lennard, a much-published garden and interiors photographer, of her relationship with husband Denis Colomb. "We were both adults, we had very evolved tastes, and we both had created our own environments that expressed our visions.

"I first met Denis in New York, where he had done the French Designers Show House, and I loved what he did there. But when he described his apartment in Paris, I was really worried. I never liked anything modern, and I didn't understand it. I was thinking, 'Oh, my God, I'm going to go there, and I'm going to hate his apartment, and then I won't like him anymore.' But I just fell in love with it. It was very simple and very advanced for the time. Everything was placed very low or very high, but it was so comfortable."

Colomb's first visit to Lennard's Paris apartment was also a trip into a very different world. She had created what he calls an "extreme fantasy of French style" that nevertheless was, he says, similar in flavor to the 19th century antique-filled home of his youth. Unlike his ancestral home, however, "Erica's home was not at all bourgeois. It was artistic, with gold wallpaper in the kitchen and very feminine. I thought it was charming."

Nine years later, Lennard, 50, and Colomb, 45, live in a three-level Mediterranean-style 1926 house in Whitley Heights, a neighborhood of grand old residences tucked into the winding streets of the Hollywood Hills. In their time together the two have also shared homes in Paris, New York and Aix-en-Provence, France--the last is where Colomb grew up. And, along the way, they've learned how to meld their different styles and still create environments that are distinctive and livable.

Three years ago, they decided to take what they had learned about collaborating on their homes and make a book of it. That was a natural choice for Lennard, whose many books include the photo collections "Classic Gardens" (Lustrum Press, 1982) and "Artists' Gardens," (Abrams, 1993), and her collaboration with author Veronique Vienne on the popular "The Art of Doing Nothing" and "The Art of Imperfection" (both published by Clarkson Potter).

Rather than use only their experience to offer advice, they also sought out 15 other duos--all friends from the design worlds of France, New York and L.A. who have also faced the challenge of blending strong visions. The result is "Living Together: How Couples Create Design Harmony at Home," co-authored with Julie Szabo and due out in October from Stewart, Tabori & Chang.

The book contains stories of each of the couples along with many tips on how to find common ground. On the final page, "ten steps to harmonious living" lists principles clearly in evidence in the authors' own home. Truisms of marriage are applied here, such as "mutual respect is essential," or "divide up responsibilities to achieve your goals." But as designers, perhaps the most important lesson in evidence is: "Remember your tastes will change and evolve along with your relationship."

At the heart of Lennard's and Colomb's collective design philosophy is a taste for comfort and an eye for the unusual. They call their L.A. home, which they are renting and have lived in for just over a year, a work in progress. "Don't expect a harmonious living arrangement to materialize overnight," they write in their book, and, indeed, they are working on the house room by room and did not feel compelled, for example, to paint the whole home at once or even finish all the floors. Instead, they give themselves time to focus on individual rooms.

The couple love to entertain, so they tackled the house's most public spaces first. The lower floor, with a grand salon and foyer, is the closest area to being finished. It's mostly Spanish in feel, largely because of two staircases with black wrought-iron banisters that lead to delicate balconies. Tall arched windows keep the rooms well-lighted by day.

The living room and the foyer are generous in scale and can easily accommodate the couple's tendency to mix and match furnishings in unlikely ways. Lennard and Colomb travel frequently, for work and pleasure, and they have a particular interest in the Far East. As a result, their home incorporates a variety of international flourishes. In the living room, a set of wooden dining chairs inlaid with bone were brought over from a trip to Rajasthan, India, evidence of Lennard's eye for the exotic.

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