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Special Fall Home Design Issue | Conservation

Protective custody

September 28, 2003|Barbara Thornburg | Barbara Thornburg is senior home design editor for the magazine.

Los Angeles interior designer Gere Kavanaugh not only had to oversee every detail of the transformation of a three-bedroom condominium to private gallery and ad hoc guest residence for her client, she also had to worry about protecting his extensive collections. The result was fiber-optic lighting, custom file cabinets, archival foam-lined drawers and handmade clamshell boxes covered in Japanese indigo-dyed fabric that have inspired many visiting museum curators.

Before the renovation, the collector, who prefers to remain anonymous, had stored his collections of ancient and contemporary textiles, Native American pottery and Japanese basketry in a local warehouse. "His own home was too small," Kavanaugh says. "He needed a separate place to receive scholars and sit and view his collections near his home. He's a very serious collector."

To accomplish her client's wishes for a private museum-like space, the designer first gutted the condominium down to the studs, then divided the apartment horizontally into two long rooms. She enclosed a wraparound balcony to add more square footage to the main viewing gallery, which features a small sitting area with a sleeper sofa for guests. The second half of the space is devoted to the display and archival storage of the textiles, pottery and large paintings, as well as bath and kitchen areas.

The conservation measures included replacing floor-to-ceiling windows with tinted glass to reduce ultraviolet light. Kavanaugh then hung motorized roller shades as additional protection. A system that controls the humidity keeps the moisture content at a desirable 40%.

The designer created a spacious 8-by-16-foot central island to serve as a table for the collector to unpack new acquisitions and view others. It features more than 40 custom drawers, each lined with archival foam and chemically inert unbleached muslin to protect ancient artifacts from rolling into one another and prevent any chemical interaction. Nearby, a steel-and-Brazilian cherry bookstand displays a heavy tome. "It cradles the book to prevent the spine from breaking," Kavanaugh says. A free-standing easel shows off the client's recent textile finds, while a custom 100-pound steel base secures a 17th century Portuguese figurehead as if it were still on the prow of its ship.

Next to the sitting area is a textile room featuring fabric fragments stored in more than 200 handmade clamshell boxes. The textiles were carefully sewn onto archival fabric and mounted on acid-free mat boards to prevent strain on the fibers. The boxes are kept inside wall-to-wall custom cabinets that feature pull-out trays offering easy access for viewing. Wing-wall storage racks nearby hold two-dimensional paintings and large textiles.

A museum-quality lighting system was installed throughout the condominium. In the area housing the textiles, fiber-optic lights that give off no heat and whose full-spectrum light won't alter the color of the fabrics were used.

"Light and temperature are the enemies of artwork," Kavanaugh says. "They're controlled here as well as in any museum." So controlled is the environment that even fresh flowers aren't allowed. "They might have insects. We have to be so careful."

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Resource Guide

Gere Kavanaugh Designs (custom bookstand and cabinets available through designer), Los Angeles, (213) 687-8270. Silent Gliss motorized roller shades available through designers and architects at Architectural Window Shades, Pasadena, (626) 578-1936. 3M glass tinting, Stewart Company Inc., Glendale, (818) 243-4254. Fiber-optic systems are available at Glass Illuminations, Sun Valley, (818) 768-4977.

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