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Kitschy Coup

A collector extraordinaire mixes and matches with glee in his Hollywood Hills villa.

October 04, 2008|Barbara Thornburg | Times Staff Writer

JIM TURNER, co-founder and former creative director of Flaunt magazine, can't recall collecting much of anything as a kid growing up in Missouri. But today, far-ranging collections are on display throughout his four-story, Spanish Revival villa in the Hollywood Hills: vintage bears and glass elephants; '60s Blenko glass and Frankoma-ware; copper vessels and vintage oil jars; wood santos and conquistador bronzes; carved boxes and Mexican souvenir plates; mercury glass and American quilts; taxidermy and cement garden animals -- to name a few.

His father, a retired train engineer, devoted the family's entire guest house to train memorabilia. Turner recalls a faux caboose at one end of a room filled with model trains, miniature mountains and towns, railroad-crossing signs, dining car china, menus and train posters galore.

"I guess the acorn doesn't fall too far from the oak," he jokes.

Turner got the collecting bug more than 20 years ago. He had just moved into his first apartment after graduating from the Art Institute of Dallas and needed furniture. Trained as a fashion illustrator, he was freelancing for a decorating company, making paintings for model apartments and not earning much money.

"I haunted flea markets to find bargains and just started collecting things," he says.

Turner has a sensibility that others don't have, says his longtime partner, Luis Barajas, current publication director and co-founder of Flaunt. The two have been together since Dallas, where they founded Detour magazine in 1987. They moved to Los Angeles and started Flaunt in 1998. Turner, who was the monthly fashion and culture magazine's art director for a decade, was known for his innovative die-cut and embossed covers and creative pop-ups that often made the magazine resemble a cutting-edge, adult activity book. One issue featured an Eames chair that readers punched out and assembled. A promotional ad sported a black-and-white beach ball insert; another, a bag of sand to promote the film "Sahara."

"Jim likes a bit of kitsch and doesn't take design so seriously," Barajas says. "He especially likes to break the rules -- something you can do only when you have a very sophisticated aesthetic."

The couple moved from their Midcentury Rustic Canyon dwelling to their Mediterranean house on a ridge below the iconic Hollywood sign four years ago. Turner has been working on the 5,500-square-foot home and its adjacent two-story guest house ever since.

Although the home, built by artist-designer Michael E. Arth in 1994, had great bones, the interior needed a face-lift. A previous occupant, former Guns N' Roses drummer Matt Sorum, had painted the tile floors black and the walls maroon.

Turner returned the Saltillo tiles to their original terra-cotta color. In keeping with a Spanish-style home, he stained the trim around doors and windows dark, replaced light fixtures in each of the 18 rooms with Spanish Revival lamps, then Venetian-plastered walls in a palette of sunny Mediterranean hues with an old-world finish.

But the real fascination lies in Turner's zany juxtapositions of eclectic furniture, collections and art. His Monterey-style furniture, fabricated by Mason Manufacturing for Barker Bros. from 1929 through the mid-'40s, dominates most of the rooms. Because Turner can't abide theme rooms with "everything matching," he adds conversation pieces -- a 1992 Cappellini chaise longue upholstered in albino crocodile, for instance, or a resin deer head that glows in the dark, or a grouping of eye-popping, vintage Blenko glass.

You get the idea.

"I love pieces that have a story to tell or could spark a story in someone else," Turner says. "Almost everything I buy is a conversation starter."

No kidding.

Other Turner obsessions: holiday accessories. Closets throughout the house bulge with his Halloween pumpkins and Day of the Dead skeletons, Easter rabbits in every conceivable size, shape and material, and Christmas ornaments, including more than a hundred Santas. Barajas says Turner has a different Christmas tree motif each year.

"One year he collected pixies for a whole year for a pixie tree, the next year it was a candy tree hung with sweets from all over the world, another year it was a Day of the Dead tree, then there was the butterfly tree, and the angel tree," Barajas says. "I don't know what he will do this year."

Room decor -- or a Christmas tree motif -- starts with inspiration from a single item. Turner thought his Warhol silk-screen of Jackie O. with a burnt-orange field would be perfect over the dining room mantel, topped with his collection of copper vessels set against a pumpkin-frost-hued wall. A pair of garden ornaments -- sleeping Mexican figures with red sombreros -- add to the disparate tableaux of objects that inevitably provoke smiles in first-time guests.

"I'm sure Jackie would like her new home," Turner says with a smile.

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