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Her more meets his less

They're artists of contrasting styles who collaborate nonetheless -- as with the work in progress they live in. Colors flow in their bayside townhouse, then ebb to monochrome.

June 03, 2004|Kathy Bryant | Special to The Times

THE extravaganza of color begins at the cobalt-blue front door festooned with abstract tiles and continues into the courtyard that pops with primary hues. Walk inside and the entry is white, white, white: floors, stairs, oversized paintings by the artists in residence. It's a bit like stepping out of the tropics into the Arctic.

Except it's a townhouse on a promontory overlooking the Back Bay in Newport Beach. And the home's split personality is a byproduct of one couple's studied "he said, she said" visual approach. There's no need for professional intervention via "Designing for the Sexes," the popular HGTV show that helps couples resolve their design disagreements each week. By respecting each other's tastes, embracing a bold use of color and fabric and giving each other design space to call their own, this pair could have starred in the episode called "The Zen Zone."

They've created harmony when in most other houses discord would rule, having redecorated a dozen times in as many years. Myrella Moses likes kapow colors and dramatic design. Eric Mondriaan goes for minimalism and clean lines. The look evolves based on how they feel. It's an ever-changing exhibit in 2,000 square feet, a fluid style that defies labeling. The embellishing knows no end.

"Myrella really plays with the house. I think of it as her art," Mondriaan says.

Escaping without leaving is important because they work at home and seldom travel. "We wanted our home to be like an exotic resort, like that place you went to on your honeymoon -- wild, colorful, exotic, relaxing, happy. We want that feeling all the time," Moses says.

"Luckily, we're both artists, so we can do the painting, sewing, finishing, building. Everything is done inexpensively," says Moses, 44. "I love creating new environments, and he likes it too.

"I always think fabric first. I've been like that since I was a little kid. I like mixing organic and natural materials with highly refined and polished ones. The juxtaposition of primitive and sophisticated."

Excuse the matter-of-fact Mondriaan if he is not quite as effusive about the ongoing change. What she thinks up, he often pulls off.

"I come up with the ideas and design and Eric does the technical stuff," she says, with a hoot of laughter. "And then I clean up afterwards."

Mondriaan, 39, a self-taught artist, paints photo-realistic oils while Moses takes digital photographs of nature-based abstractions and mounts them flush on balsa wood. Sometimes they collaborate. One such work was in the spring exhibit "Whiteness, a Wayward Construction" at the Laguna Art Museum. (See more samples of their artwork at

"I think of their house as a little Shangri-La in terms of the veils and drapes," says Tyler Stalling, the museum's chief curator. "It's a sensual world separate from the outside. The only practical environments are their artists' studios."

The townhouse has a view through palm trees and dense vegetation of water and migratory birds out the back, but the front is pure tract-home homogenous to conform to homeowner association codes.

In the courtyard, white canvas fabrics resembling sails waft in the breeze, suspended over the entrance and providing calm cover over an area that's a kaleidoscopic riot. The canopies also serve a practical purpose: to keep the area cool during summer.

Beneath the sails is a couch (actually two lounge chairs nailed together) with fabric dyed yellow, red and orange and decorated with multicolored pillows made from rolled 6-foot bathroom rugs. Water flows from a small concrete fountain into a basin filled with shiny, blue glass marbles.

Since the whole townhouse is designed to change with Moses' whims, the former costume designer born and raised in Germany laughs and says there may have been a Bedouin in her background. (She came to California 20 years ago after marrying Olympic champion Edwin Moses. They divorced 13 years ago.)

Only the doors leading to the outside are traditional doors. Fabric marks the inside passageways. She's rethought the usual front screen door by suspending sheer fuchsia fabric from a bamboo pole and weighting it down. It billows like a dancing veil but still keeps out bugs and birds.

"I'm a real fabric hound, always looking for great colors and textures. If things fade, I just re-dye them in the washing machine," Moses says. "The suspended fabric here starts a fluid rhythm that goes throughout the whole house. I love its sensuality and the way it moves. Plus with fabric you can transform something quickly, cheaply and beautifully. I don't like doors. I like the feeling of a tent."

Closet doors downstairs were replaced with white canvas tossed over bamboo poles rescued from a neighbor's yard. Valances are tossed over the poles with a chandelier's crystal teardrops weighing down the hem.

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