WHEN Ron and Deborah Rader first saw the pink stucco house with the glass-block walls, they were hit by an '80s flashback. Rounded walls, whitewashed oak cabinets, blue neon illuminating the pueblo-style fireplace -- might as well pop a Cyndi Lauper cassette in the Walkman and go for a jog.
The four-story Playa del Rey house was a relic of the Reagan era, a place where design exuberance went unchecked. The entry's black-and-gold granite stairs had a glass railing wrapped in wood. Oversized corridors led to rooms painted in "Miami Vice" colors. All that was missing was a DeLorean in the driveway.
The 1989 house had been on the market for a long time, and the Raders could see why. But then they looked past the curved terraces and pink marble floors and thought they could remodel the structure into a clean-lined modern dwelling filled with contemporary art.
They moved out of their tidy town house and into the 6,800-square-foot time warp. Deborah is still astonished by the size.
"We didn't realize there were 44 doors. Six months into refinishing them, we put the workmen on our tax returns as our dependents," she says, joking.
Four years later, the couple loves the transformation. "It lends itself for entertaining eight or 80," Deborah says. "And we never tire of the view of the marina, wetlands and Malibu."
THE Raders stretched themselves financially to buy the house, then set out to remove frivolous layers of styling in a cost-conscious way. They hired architect Bret Thoeny of BOTO Design Architects in Santa Monica to erase the '80s and leave only timeless design.
"We subtracted a lot of what was there to make a simpler box," says Thoeny, who doesn't conceal his distaste for what he calls the Pop architecture of that decade. "Drive around L.A., and there are the postmodern Michael Graves knockoffs that developers tried to copy because they thought it was neat. But today, those pastel colors, defining circles, fake pediments" -- he laughs -- "sorry, but it was old stuff applied to a modern formula, and it looks so dated. That is one era that left its mark without hardly any residual value."
Thoeny says the Raders had a vision of what they wanted: clean.
"We peeled off the front of the house from the sidewalk to the roof," says Ron, a commercial real estate broker. They squared off the corners, replaced curved windows with 8-foot-tall sheets of green glass and plastered on a smooth white coat.
Then they went inside. To create a dramatic entry, they installed steel beams that rose three stories high and could support towering walls. Posed like a cliffhanger between the second and third floors is a life-size sculpture by Chris Mason called "Nick, the Climbing Man." If he were to fall, he'd land on the green slate that replaced the old black, pink and gold granite.
A carved double front door with curved sandblasted glass inserts was nixed for two 8-foot-high glass panels that pivot. The new door, Ron says, "is Herculean."
A flight of stairs at the entry leads to the sun-filled living room. The new exterior railings are flat green bars that fit squarely into newly straightened corners. "Knife-edged," Ron says, appreciating the railings' precision. "Some people love curves. There is a flavor for everyone. It just wasn't our flavor."
At the top of the stairs and visible from two sides was a 400-gallon aquarium embedded in a wall. "We had no experience with fish," admits Deborah, who owns a commercial property management company. "When we changed the angle of the entry area and more sunlight came into this room, we accidentally cooked the fish."
When their beloved puffer fish died, the couple made the decision: no more fish tank. In its place they chose a sawtoothed piece of aluminum-and-glass art by Craig French. "We knew we would put something there, a ceramic or glass piece or a [Dale] Chihuly bowl. Then we priced the Chihulys and knew we weren't putting one there," says Ron, who serves on the board of governors for Otis College of Art and Design.
"The fish tank was so dramatic when you looked up from the entry that we needed something to hold that drama," Deborah says. "And we have it."
THE floors on the second level were bleached oak, which the Raders had sanded down and stained cherry. The electrifying fireplace was elevated to float off the floor and finished in Venetian plaster.
They didn't change much in the kitchen: They kept the cabinets but added a white lacquer finish and marigold walls to pop out against the black granite counter.
They did remove dated and bulky built-in cabinets in the family room in favor of a free-standing aluminum cabinet to store their entertainment equipment. They also updated a mundane bar by fronting it with a sheet of green glass affixed with stainless steel caps. Even though the view is on the other side of the house, Deborah says, the bar is "the most popular place in the house when we have friends over."