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Bold Strokes

A Couple's Passion for Hot, Brash Color Defines Their Home and Garden

June 06, 2004|Susan Heeger

When Sheila and Wally Weisman look out their windows in Holmby Hills, they see red: crimson bougainvilleas, dark 'Nabob' abutilons and bloody 'Europea' roses. More of this red, red rose is spattered acoss a hillside below their house, while its quieter echoes--the ruddy brick of arctotis, the flush of coral bells--appear in nearby borders.

Why? "It's alive. It's vibrant," says Wally Weisman, chairman of the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Although others reject assertive garden blooms, he and his wife, who chairs L.A.'s High School for the Arts, embrace boldness as a defining feature of their color palette, both outdoors and in their art-filled house.

House and garden, both designed by Tichenor & Thorp Architects, are closely intertwined. For every indoor room, there's an outdoor space washed in the corresponding green, yellow, purple or bronze, with red providing the antic spark, the note that draws you to the windows and out the doors. The living room overlooks a lawn-framed swimming pool designed in the style of a reflecting pool; the dining room fronts a flower-splashed court; and the master bedroom opens onto a garden with red-stuffed edges and shaded benches around a spa. Against the backdrop of mature trees, the tableau has an air of permanence that belies the fact that fire had not long ago swept the sloping acre, razing a '60s-era house and blackening its surroundings.

In 1995 the Weismans bought what amounted to empty land, which allowed Brian Tichenor and Raun Thorp to reorganize the layout. Instead of placing the new house where the old had been--splayed horizontally atop the ridge--they turned its axis uphill, creating a terraced progression of rooms, from public to private, all oriented toward the garden instead of the street.

Because Weisman has a residence in Aspen, a place he especially loves, the designers conceived the house as a modern take on Colorado ranch architecture. They drew up a plant list that would echo the lush local summer, with trees in full leaf and flowers surging around lawns. Seasonal change is part of the mix, with winter-bare sycamores and liquidambars, and in the autumn the flame of Japanese maples.

For Tichenor and Thorp, who favor lavenders and blues, the Weismans' passion for hot tones was a challenge. Their solution was to use the painter's trick of mediating intense shades with a "mother wash," in this case a burnished bronze. The color ripples through their composition via potted dodonaeas, hedged 'Coppertone' loquats and dainty 'Stanhoe' geraniums. Even their main red rose, 'Europea,' has bronze leaves, while their most versatile rose, 'Mutabilis,' is copper-orange in bud, gold while opening and pink deepening to red as it matures.

In the upper garden on either side of a staircase, Mutabilis' many hues spin off in other roses--peach 'Abraham Darby,' purple-red 'Othello' and apricot 'Tamora'--amid an ordered tapestry of green. "The design is more geometric in intimate spaces near the house," says Tichenor, "and more relaxed and naturalistic down below."

But even there, at the lot's lower edge, where shade plants thrive under redwoods, the colors aren't somber. Amid campanula, white abutilon and ferns, summer brings a flood of yellow columbines.

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Resource Guide

Tichenor & Thorp Architects, Beverly Hills, (310) 358-8444.

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