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A fine patina

An Interior Designer Creates a Venetian-Inspired Palazzo in a Modern Beverly Hills Home

January 12, 2003|Barbara Thornburg

When interior designer Kathleen Spiegelman purchased a 1990s home in Beverly Hills three years ago, she decided the narrow four-story structure would be ideal as a 17th century Italian palazzo. Inspired by her annual architectural pilgrimages to Italy, Spiegelman wanted to re-create ''an Old World Italian ambience.''

She had her work cut out for her. The house was awash in pale gray--''gray walls, gray doors, gray carpet and very shiny silver doorknobs," she says. "There was no ornamentation of any kind. It was all very slick.''

To set the opening scene, Spiegelman replaced the Formica front door with hand-carved 19th century doors and an antique transom from southern France. She added 19th century artifacts such as a rare Syrian chest of inlaid ivory and ebony, wildebeest horns from an Italian hunting lodge and two Italian columns. She decorated an elevator with hand-painted panels.

Influenced by the noble homes she had seen along the Venice canals and in Florence, Spiegelman decided to place her living room on the top floor. The living room, she says, ''was usually an upper floor where the family resided away from the dirt and smells, not to mention flooding.'' She gutted the fourth floor down to the studs and made additional space for the dining area by enclosing an existing balcony. She used a distressing process on the Formica ceiling beams to create a patina similar to beams she'd seen in a 13th century Italian castle. ''It took six months to get the right finish--complete with wormholes,'' says the designer, whose eponymous West Hollywood showroom specializes in furniture reproductions and 18th and 19th century European antiques. To transform the living room's prefab metal fireplace--''a grim-looking black box with sliding glass doors''--she added a massive limestone fireplace using the same stone that covers the home's exterior.

Throughout the house she removed the industrial carpet, replacing it with butter-colored limestone floors set on a bias in 16-inch squares, which seem ''like the worn stone floors in old cathedrals.''

After covering the walls in plaster, Spiegelman hand-rubbed the surfaces with color, then sanded and sealed them between coats of paint to resemble the champagne patina of an aged fresco. ''I wanted the walls to feel like they had been painted again and again, then slowly faded over time."

For finishing touches, Spiegelman hired an Italian artist who worked for four months hand-painting the living and dining room ceilings with scenes from the Middle Ages inspired by a monastery near Turin. Spiegelman continued the mural's theme of birds, animals, grotesques and geometric patterns around the edges of bookcases and windows.

The place the designer most enjoys is her third-floor bedroom. To a room initially lacking any architectural interest, she added Italian-style doors with raised panels and custom antique-pewter hardware along with moldings around windows and ceilings. A motif of hand-painted flowers and fauna, similar to those at the 18th century Villa Caprile in the Marche region of Italy, adorn the shutters and ceiling.

In the corner of the master bedroom, a small library houses Spiegelman's extensive collection of art and architecture books. Furnishings here and throughout the house are a melange of 17th, 18th and 19th century Italian and French antiques she has assembled over time, with a few vintage Guatemalan pieces thrown in for exotic accent. ''I love the eclectic look of furnishings that have been collected over the years, as in the great homes of Italy and France. The Venetians in particular traveled all over the world--Africa, the Mediterranean, China. I felt I could layer different centuries as well as different cultures.''

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Resource Guide

HOME, Pages 26-33: K. Spiegelman Interiors, West Hollywood, (310) 273-2255.

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