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INNER LIFE

Not one bobblehead to be seen Design rounds out a love of sports

A design-challenged sports nut scores on his interiors. So take a seat on the custom couch and pass the beer.

July 26, 2007|Janet Eastman | Times Staff Writer

PERHAPS it was the ball shapes that first attracted sports fanatic Kevin Frankel to a circular dwelling overlooking the Malibu coast. The living room is ringed like a hockey rink in transparent materials. There's a cherrywood divider with an 8-foot-wide cutout that looks as if a giant soccer ball was kicked through it. And the round limestone floor is wide enough for a half-court basketball game.

Whatever. Within 10 minutes of seeing the interior of the newly built glass-and-steel house, Frankel, a serial apartment dweller, decided to buy it. He soon experienced an aesthetic awakening. The home has changed his life, the 45-year-old attorney says. The former workaholic who crashed in places with no particular style is now a beach-crazed world traveler with a newfound interest in design.

The self-confessed "numbers guy with no visual sense" chucked the off-the-floor Southwest furniture he'd bought after law school and started shopping at Diva and other hip Los Angeles furniture stores. He began discussing the merits of luster on solid wood, the right legs for a table and the number of knots per square inch in a high-end rug.

He also traveled to exotic places and acquired contemporary art to replace wood paintings of boxers and his other pub paraphernalia.

His passion for sports goes unabated -- "Did I mention I'm single?" he says as a way to answer most questions about his sports-centric life -- but there's not one bobblehead, autographed ball or dusty trophy in sight.

He's discovered that natural light isn't an enemy to marathon TV viewing, and sleek designer furniture can withstand spills, sweat and tears as well as a Scotchgard recliner. "Look, it's embarrassing to admit, but when I'm home the TV goes on," says Frankel, who spends hundreds of dollars a season subscribing to sports cable channels, "and it goes off by a sleeper switch."

He watches TV while making dinner, eats his meals basking in its glow and entertains his buddies by inviting them over for games. And when a coach makes a bad call, he can step out on the deck, breathe in the air and quell his emotions, all the while keeping an eye on the 50-inch plasma TV.

"When I spend six hours watching games at other people's houses, I feel as if I've been in a cave all day," Frankel says, facing his view. "Here, I look outside and see the ocean. It's life-enhancing."

"Kevin's house is a great place to hang out in," says longtime friend Craig Varnen, who is also an attorney. "Despite it being an expensive place and that Kevin has taken an interest for the first time in how he lives, this house has a good flopability quality. There's nothing out of bounds.

"And he's changed because of it. It's like night to day. He's relaxed, for him."

THE entrance to the house, with its translucent glass front, looks like a lighthouse. It draws you inside and leads past a long walnut table with ripple-like curves into the circular living room and kitchen. Though the fishbowl design initially attracted Frankel, it presented some distinct decorating challenges.

For starters, where should the sofa go? Architect Ed R. Niles, who designed the house, thought seating should face the cherrywood wall that divides the two rooms into separate half moons. But the built-in cabinets were too low and too small, Frankel decided, to hold a big-screen TV.

He called in help.

"Everything hinged on the placement of the TV. He couldn't care less about the sofa," says designer Ilan Dei, whom Frankel hired after purchasing the house in 2001. Dei figured out that a large TV could go above the glass-and-aluminum-framed fireplace on a wall opposite the divider. To one side is a 20-foot-high wall of glass.

"The room gets a lot of light that impacts perfect TV viewing," Frankel says, "but we put up sheers and that's taken care of some of the problem."

Venice-based Dei says that during three years of decorating in phases, Frankel revealed a different side: "He had good taste to start with -- a nice car, nice clothing -- but not when it applied to a house. In the beginning, he was reserved and relied on me. But as the project progressed, so did his insight."

When Frankel was going to New York to see his favorite team, the Rams, Dei gave him a map of the SoHo District and told him to check out showrooms there. Frankel took pictures of leather sofas he liked, and Dei used those images along with the low lines of Frankel's Porsche seats to design the living room set: a leather sofa and three matching club chairs in burnt sunset-orange.

Dei sees the color as modern and warm. Frankel says he would never have picked orange, but he likes it because "it's irreverent and fun."

Sharing the wall with the TV is a set of 50 white-and-orange ceramic pieces shaped like birds and shells that Dei made. He also designed three large white light fixtures, with a swirl of sunshine yellow, that hover over the curved sofa. Defining the seating area is a circle within a circle: a rug in yellow and blue, hand-woven in Nepal.

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