"Decrepitude," he proclaims. "I think filthier is better. If you study European construction, it's not nearly as fussy and refined. Here, if someone gets a little flaking paint on their house, it's a panic situation."
To prove his point, Shapiro has been known to pour coffee and tea on paving stones and cement to give them a more aged patina. He is thrilled that the plaster in the portico has hairline cracks and vines are creeping across the walls. "I think it is a bit of a sore thumb, but that is softened by the foliage around it," he says. "If I had it to do over I would destroy it even more."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 01, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Royal Pavilion -- An article in Thursday's Home section on architectural follies included a photo caption that said the Royal Pavilion was in Brighton, Wales. Brighton is in England.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 07, 2005 Home Edition Home Part F Page 4 Features Desk 0 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Royal Pavilion -- An article in last week's Home section on architectural follies included a photo caption that said the Royal Pavilion was in Brighton, Wales. Brighton is in England.
Behind the portico's impressive facade, which could keep company with Washington, D.C., landmarks (complete with reflecting pool), the room has 13-foot ceilings and measures 19 feet across. Walls curve to meet a 19th century stone reproduction of a Renaissance hearth purchased in Antwerp, Belgium.
Shapiro covered the 275 square feet of interior space with "multi-blend, the cheapest, junkiest stone you can buy," literally cutting corners by carving ragged-edged 14-inch squares that were laid in a diamond pattern. There are two daybeds of Shapiro's design covered in a faded damask linen from Diamond Foam & Fabric in L.A., some worn wicker chairs and a $100 junk-store table he had painted red. Even the telephone -- beige and decidedly analog -- looks second hand.
The stucco exterior of the structure's sides and back and the deliberately dialed-down decor are "very plain Jane," Shapiro says. "All the money is in the facade." He estimates that the tab for his folly ran to $100,000.
"People spend that kind of money on gourmet kitchens all the time and never think twice," he says without a second thought. He acknowledges that spending this much on a Palladian portico might seem indulgent to the average homeowner. "Frivolous? Extravagant? Hollywood?" he asks, before answering with a smile. "I plead guilty. But I use it all day. I have my coffee and read the paper here in the morning, hang out by the pool and have drinks and dinner in the evening. It's eccentric but in a nice harmless way."
There were early indications that Shapiro might become an aesthete. Growing up in Burbank and Encino, Shapiro learned to paint from an artist who, in exchange, got medical care from Shapiro's father, a physician. The Shapiros often visited the art galleries on La Cienega Boulevard during the '50s and '60s. "They stayed open on Monday nights," Shapiro recalls. "It was something of an institution."
The first house Shapiro purchased, a classic Spanish design, struck a chord, as did its terraced landscaping created by a greens keeper of the Los Angeles Country Club. In 1986, as the prosperous owner of Budget Rent A Car franchises, he moved into his current residence. It had been owned by film and TV composer and jazz musician Peter Rugolo, who had a Picasso-inspired mural painted on the bottom of the swimming pool.
Back then, Shapiro says, he was "living a Jekyll and Hyde existence." After renting cars all day, he would come home to paint or go to meetings at the Museum of Contemporary Art, where he sat on the board. In the early '90s, he cofounded and designed the Beverly Hills restaurant the Grill.
During a brief retirement, he also filled his 8,500-square-foot home with antiquities, centuries-old furniture, modern art and the occasional 20th century piece, including a Gio Ponti secretary cabinet decorated with classical architectural motifs by Piero Fornasetti. It is a sophisticated mix: a fragment of an ancient marble sculpture shares a foyer decorated with the twisted remains of an automobile that form a John Chamberlain sculpture.
In design, Shapiro emulates the European sensibility. "Their approach to decoration and art is unrestrained," he says. "They are very comfortable taking risks. They throw seemingly disparate items together in a joyous, almost naive way, and it always seems to work."
He describes his home as "studied clutter. It's not chaos. There is classical symmetry and I do like pairs, columns, things that frame a doorway. I like announcing a room that way or having a strong piece of art as a focal point. The objects that create drama must have soul and substance. They cannot be gratuitously beautiful or colorful, a cheap thrill."
Shapiro's folly began to occupy his mind about four years ago. After six years of retirement and a divorce, he was "bored out of my skull, just vegetating." In 2002 he renovated a former pet supply store and opened Richard Shapiro Antiques and Works of Art. Last year he designed a furniture collection, Studiolo, comprised of iron and steel tables as well as upholstered pieces.