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It's still the address of glam

In a historic West Hollywood complex, artists in residence put their stamp on a classic.

July 14, 2005|David A. Keeps | Times Staff Writer

The blue pucker martinis are being iced and shaken. Guests, some armed with their monthly rent checks, pour into building manager Marc Yeber's silver and sapphire minimalist living room, part of a 1927 apartment building by architect Leland Bryant, designer of the landmark Argyle Hotel.

It's just another Tuesday-night gathering -- a contemporary design version of the Algonquin Round Table -- at the Four Gables in West Hollywood. In this 16-unit complex, half of the residents are artists or decorators in their 30s and 40s who have made their interiors as distinctive as the stately period revival architecture.

"It is so like a designer dorm here," says Dean Robert Jones, a couture wall upholsterer who has lived in the same lavishly appointed, two-story, two-bedroom apartment filled with antiques and chintz for the last 14 years. "We all go to each other's parties."

And host them. When Jones' neighbor, Jillian Kogan, threw a Mad Hatter's party for her 30th birthday, she held it in Yeber's streamlined space instead of her comfortably cluttered "Paris flea market" one-bedroom. Yeber's apartment, says Kogan, a production director of events for MTV Networks, "is the hangout, our Central Perk."

It is more than a hangout for "Friends." Old 1920s jewels such as this are a magnet, says Scott Roberts, an interior designer who manages the upscale L.A. furniture gallery Modern One.

"Los Angeles has always been a place where people can invent themselves, so designers want to live in buildings like the Four Gables because the history, the architecture and the interiors are part of their whole image," Roberts says. "It's a substantial piece of history. Living in it is inspiring to me as a designer and makes me feel connected to a creative past."

At the gathering, Roberts joins Kogan and Jones in Yeber's apartment. Also on hand is Emmanuel Cobbet, a partner in Yeber's Em Collaborative studio, a furniture design firm that recently opened a showroom on Beverly Boulevard. He warns latecomers that the bread with cheese, honey and nuts that he made hours ago is going stale.

Yeber's next-door neighbor, animator Greg Griffith, drops by without his "roommate," Isabel. Other than a couple of Griffith's houseguests, no one has ever seen her. Isabel is a ghost.

The specter of a paranormal presence hasn't dissuaded other creative types from making Four Gables their haunt. Actresses Sherry Stringfield and Winona Ryder and the late Hollywood studio photographer George Hurrell all lived here in this Fountain Avenue building-- perhaps drawn by the apartments' sweeping staircases, telephone wall niches, oak floors, soaring stucco walls and ceiling beams with carved corbels of cat, owl, ox, hawk, satyr and cherub faces.

The compact kitchens and guest powder rooms tiled in exuberant turquoise and lilac reinforce the bygone elegance of the era in which the Four Gables was built, a time when dinner meant supper clubs and entertaining at home was a more intimate affair. The apartments, Yeber says, represent a chapter in Los Angeles architecture defined by period re-creations that are a synthesis of Continental influences and local craftsmen.

"In Leland Bryant's work there are gothic arches, Tudor doors, Spanish plaster and Churrigueresque, a highly decorative Latin American form of European Baroque, and a French chateau exterior," Yeber says. "A lot of the architects of that time who did historical revivals weren't absolutely pure. They were known to mix styles and let themselves be influenced by regional elements to create that grand European look."

Before she ever set foot inside it, Kogan was seduced.

"I had always driven by and looky-looed, and I absolutely coveted it because it reminded me of manors I had seen in Europe," she says. "The waiting list for an apartment was four pages long, but I started leaving funny postcards under Marc's door."

In 1999, Yeber, "possibly swayed by the homemade cookies" left by Kogan, approved her application. She and her cat, Spuds, moved in.

"Every apartment is a little bit different," Yeber says. "I don't have a fireplace, but she doesn't have the gargoyles on the ceiling beams."

The manager and the tenant had different ideas for identical sweeping staircases. Yeber took his down to the original magnasite, a lightweight concrete once used on wood-framed steps, and designed a bookcase with a built-in reading bench at the top of his landing. Kogan ran a leopard print runner up her stairs and, at the foot of staircase, used the iron railing to support a stack of vintage guitars and old suitcases.

"I bought one years ago," she says of the charmingly battered boxes with hotel decals. "Besides being decorative, they're great for storing letters and things, only now I can't find them at a decent price."

Kogan calls her decor sensibility "shabby chic French country with a pop-culture edge."

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