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A Most Inspired Haunt

Thom and Leslie Beers channeled the spirit of their 'Monster' makeover shows when they reimagined their Valley home. The result is creative chaos -- and a creature runs through it.

October 27, 2005|David A. Keeps | Times Staff Writer

THOM and Leslie Beers are possessed, though in no way like Linda Blair or Emily Rose. The couple does not talk in tongues or levitate, but their Sherman Oaks home speaks in an elevated vernacular of its own. An ode to Craftsman and Age of Aquarius arts and crafts, man, the imaginative residence appears to owe its design more to Dr. Frankenstein than Martha Stewart.

And appropriately so, for the Beerses are the husband-wife team behind the Discovery Channel's "Monster Garage" and "Monster House" series that Thom, 53, calls "more takeover than makeover." Mechanics might turn a Mustang into a lawn mower on "Garage"; construction crews drop the front 30-foot section of a salvaged 747 into a Simi Valley home on "House" and make it look like part of the decor, complete with a gaming console in the cockpit.

On a smaller scale, the Beerses have transformed a humble midcentury ranch house into a highly personal folk art piece -- part Winchester Mystery House, part Pee-wee's Playhouse.

At the former, rifle manufacturer heiress Sarah Winchester tried to appease evil spirits haunting her San Jose house by constantly expanding and changing the 160-room Victorian mansion for nearly four decades. Thom has been at it only four years, though he cautions, "This is only phase one. I always remember what Anthony Quinn said when asked why he kept building additions: If he stopped doing it he'd die. I am literally addicted to the concept."

The Pee-wee connection is evident in a riot of color. "I'm into the rainbow," says Leslie, a music publisher for Thom's Original Productions company and a jewelry designer. "Every shade has a personality." When it comes to furniture, she favors shapes with personality, including her tutti-frutti upholstered '50s amoeba-shaped couches by Harry Segal.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the inspiration for the "Monster" family's home comes from a most benevolent spirit: Sami Johns, Thom's late mother. Pictures of the Mrs. Senior Citizen USA and nightclub performer in Sarasota, Fla., are all over the house. Leslie keeps one above the kitchen sink that shows Johns in her coffin, its lid festooned with jewels and sequins that her son and daughter-in-law decorated themselves.

It was Johns who taught Thom that the unhappiest people in the world were the ones with limited imagination.

"I'll never forget she wanted to go to Hawaii and we had no money," recalls Thom, now executive producer of the "Monster" shows. "She had four kids and a little $12,000 crackerjack box house in upstate New York. And one day we came home from school and she had hand-painted an entire island scene with these massive palm trees in the living room. The next year it was an African landscape."

When Johns remarried, her wealthy husband indulged her avant-garde tastes, purchasing the 1970s four-panel mahogany carving by Chilean artist Paul Davis that now stands in the Beerses' front garden and the sculpted wooden Hand chair, a fixture in the Beerses' media room designed by Mexico's foremost Modernist, Pedro Friedeberg. And what about that Egyptian sarcophagus in the living room?

"That was a prop in the film 'Cleopatra,' " says Thom. "There's a pickup truck driving down the street with that in the back, and my mom flagged the guy down and gave him a $5,000 check."

The Beerses' monster house began modestly. Four years ago, Thom came across the typical 1960s two-bedroom. Built on a five-sided lot with a guest cottage and a natural stream running through the property, it was, he recalls, "a total disaster, a 'War of the Roses' house. There was a bitter divorce between the couple that owned it and they were using the house as a weapon. Everything that could go wrong with a house had, and they just left it that way."

The Beerses bought the 2,200-square-foot house for $750,000 and have since put at least that much into its transformation for their family, which includes son Max, 8, and a rescue mutt, Rusty.

Rather than redo the interior, Leslie used a rainbow of paint -- apple green in the kitchen, silver in a hallway, lipstick red over grass cloth wallpaper in a bathroom with green glass tile floors -- and a jumble of retro furniture and art pieces by Keith Haring and Peter Max.

Bead board, wood trim, copper lighting fixtures and two shades of green imbued the bland exterior with personality. "Most clients want a vanilla shell, something safe," says Carlos R. Alonso, the Beerses' architect, who primarily designs commercial properties such as Morels restaurant at the Grove. "We went for neo Japanese Craftsman."

"Architects are trained to use the most efficient shapes and materials, but Thom and Leslie aren't the typical client. They are uninhibited and playful," Alonso says, adding that when a crew dug trenches for the foundation, Thom delayed filling them in so he and his son could play in the ditches. "These are not rigid people, so whenever I showed them something square or rectangular, I got resistance."

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