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Modern, remixed

Their Palm Springs weekend house has a midcentury pedigree, but they wanted a vibe all their own. So Lynda Keeler and Bob Merlis matched up vintage and contemporary finds for a colorful look.

September 07, 2006|David A. Keeps | Times Staff Writer

DURING the week, Lynda Keeler and Bob Merlis live in what they call a "Nantucket shingle barn in the heart of Larchmont Village." On the weekends, however, they unleash their love of all things ring-a-ding-ding in a color-saturated 1960 Donald Wexler-designed house in Palm Springs. Eschewing typical magazine-spread modernism, Keeler and Merlis mix thrift shop vintage, Scandinavian, California craft and IKEA contemporary with abandon.

"Because it was for the weekends, we weren't going to be religious about midcentury decor," says Keeler, founder of the shopping website "The goal was to create a place that felt like we were on vacation furniture that you could sit on in swimsuits."

They also wanted a home away from home where they could indulge their passion for Rat Pack-era artifacts. Merlis, an automotive writer and music publicist, has a thing for old hi-fis, hot rod art and pastel sports jackets. Keeler collects ceramics, copper enamels and junk-store abstract paintings.

Oh, and timepieces.

"People have given me clocks for years because I am always late," she admits. "It never made me more on time, but I like the look of them."

Indeed, she has filled one dining room wall with tickers and created a grouping of Crayola-colored twin-bell alarm clocks in the guest bedroom, using the timepieces for decoration rather than functionality. Merlis commandeered a corner of the living room for his baby: a 1960 Packard Bell hi-fidelity console he found in Portland, Ore., for $400. It took $800 more to ship and repair, but it was a hit at their recent record party, attended by Eric Burdon, lead singer of the '60s group the Animals.

"It is as contemporaneous as I want to be," Merlis declares.

The sound system may be analog, but the couple by no means wanted to live in a time capsule. After buying the house in 2003, they stripped it down to bare walls and original concrete floors and freshened up the backyard pool and spa. They also knocked out a third bedroom to create a workspace for Merlis and put in a Scandinavian Modern daybed as "an extra crash pad for guests."

Then came the updates: two bathrooms with Waterworks glass mosaic tiles and fixtures, and a kitchen with cork floors, IKEA cabinets with knobs from Liz's Antique Hardware on La Brea and poured concrete counters in a shade of mustard.

"It's a Flintstones vibe," Merlis says. "It's the new Brutalism."

When it came time to decorate the larger rooms, Keeler found new resources in Palm Springs, including the Palm Canyon Galleria, Modern Homes and 111 Antique Mall, all on Palm Canyon Drive.

Back in L.A., she controlled costs by shopping flea markets as well as vintage furniture stores on Melrose Avenue east of Cahuenga Boulevard, and on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake and Echo Park. There were a few splurges, including a Danish dining set from Sunset Orange and a bedroom dresser and nightstands by Paul McCobb from Emmerson Troop. The latter pieces, Merlis says, "cost $2,800, but they threw in delivery because I said they could swim in the pool."

Most of the furnishings -- no-name versions of midcentury designer classics -- were picked up at thrift stores and yard sales for a song. Or, in the case of a vintage mirror-clad Pierre Cardin bar, were free.

"It was just sitting by the curb in Larchmont Village," Merlis says. "We put it right in my station wagon and took it to the glass shop and had the cracked mirrors replaced for $100."

Keeler "took the generic out of" an IKEA cabinet by adding a glass panel and painting it to match bathroom tiles. She bought silk pillows from the Global Collection at Target and saved money by potting artificial succulents in mirrored containers filled with colored glass left over from the couple's outdoor fire pit.

The strong horizontal lines of the home's architecture were thrown for a curve with Keeler's introduction of circular shapes throughout the house, notably in a wrought-iron room divider from the 111 Antique Mall.

She was even more fearless with color, filling the living room with vibrant ceramics, copper enamels, mosaic-tiled tables and modern art by 1950s and '60s Sunday painters.

"The light in Palm Springs inspires more choices," she says. "So we got $89 shag suede rugs from IKEA that are the same color as the concrete floor and kept the walls neutral. That way, we could use every color we wanted."

Merlis puts it another way: "We weren't hung up on being color-coordinated."

"It is an eyeful," Keeler says, "but this house is about leaving work behind and having fun. We have a lot of people over, and there's plenty for them to do. Between looking at the groovy art and objects and listening to records and doing the Twist, you rarely get a chance to be bored."

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