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A corner of the South in Hollywood

July 11, 2009|David Hay

In the Hollywood mansion of LM Pagano, the floor lamps have elegant, torn lampshades. A portion of the ceiling has yet to be painted, and an antique window frame, now housing a multi-paneled mirror, leans against a wall. All are reminders of New Orleans, where age and humidity combine to give homes their broken-down charm.

Pagano exaggerates the effect, dotting rooms with her collection of Chinese plaster dolls, antique rosary beads and a small porcelain statue of Mary Magdalene.

"Religiosity is such a New Orleans thing and, even though I'm not religious, I love the objects associated with it," she says.

Indeed, the location may be Hollywood Boulevard, but the house's lush, atmospheric beauty feels like a corner of the South. The 4,800-square-foot home, built in the late 1920s, is not meant to be a decorator's showcase for Pagano, an interior designer and sometime singer. Few clients have stepped inside unless they have been invited to one of her jazz salons in the living room.

"There, people have time to come over to talk, to have tea or a drink, so they need a parlor like this," she says.

On these nights, with a piano player at the 7-foot Steinway, Pagano gets to sing. Windows at the other end of the room open to the courtyard -- "for the smokers," she says -- and music fills the house into the wee hours.

That's when the place fully comes into its own, the reflection of an owner with a multilayered career as colorful as the house. Born in Los Angeles, Pagano flirted as a teenager with what then passed for fashion -- making shirts out of antique fabric for Bob Dylan and embroidering jeans for David Lee Roth. In her 20s, she worked as a chef for such clients as Steven Spielberg and entrepreneur and museum namesake Norton Simon.

Later she became Nicolas Cage's assistant. One day the actor came by her house in Santa Monica, fell in love with what he saw and asked her to decorate a beach house for him in Malibu Cove Colony.

Since then Pagano says she has done 15 houses and two boats for Cage and members of his family. Other clients include the first president of EBay, Jeff Skoll, and Johnny Depp. After the actor bought the motor yacht Vajoliroja, Pagano landed the job of turning its interior into what she describes as a "combination of the Orient Express and an Art Deco gypsy caravan."

Currently she is collaborating with New Orleans hotelier Sean Cummings on his post-Katrina revamping of the International House boutique hotel.

"The fingerprints of the designer should not be the thing that jumps out at you, and her projects are never ego-driven," Cummings says, adding that Pagano is able to express a way of living through her design, and not just a look.

Pagano's own home was somewhat of a shambles when she bought it in 1994. Owned at one time by actress Deanna Durbin, it was subsequently a hippie art colony, the home of Lynda Carter during her stint as Wonder Woman and later the residence of actor Eric Stoltz.

Pagano was less intrigued by the house's history than its handsome proportions. When she first saw the place, she ventured down the hall and entered the small bathroom under the stairs. Low black tile is topped by what appears to be a three-dimensional frieze. Persimmon orange, the daring design thrilled Pagano. Without seeing another room in the six-bedroom house or realizing that this tile maker had worked wonders in two more bathrooms, she told her real estate agent that she'd take it.

Pagano may have been decisive on that issue, but she's quite the opposite when it comes to decorating her interiors. Even now, after so many years, she has yet to take on many of its rooms.

"I found it so hard to make decisions that I kept putting them off -- and off," she says, adding, "It took me 14 years to put the window treatments in my own bedroom!"

The inspiration to redo a room often comes when Pagano finds a new object, and her house is full of treasures. The dining room has a carved Chinese campaign bar from the movie "Mrs. Doubtfire." Pagano discovered it at a sale on the Twentieth Century Fox lot. Closed, it looks like a sturdy, ornate chest, but upon inspection its secret doors and storage spaces become a bartender's dream. One drawer holds liquor bottles, another glasses, and yet another part of her wine collection.

Often Pagano's inspiration comes in the form of a light fixture. In the kitchen she chose a large, onyx lamp similar to one that was featured in the William Powell-Carole Lombard romantic comedy "My Man Godfrey." In the front hallway, she has put up a 19th century French bronze hot-air balloon lamp. Another favorite hovers above the dining table: an Art Deco fixture with 30 panels of etched glass from the early 1920s, she says proudly.

Sometimes, the array of prized possessions can seem overwhelming. Multicolored votive candles from Olvera Street stand on a small table in the dining room. Paintings by her uncle, John J. Soble, adorn many a wall. To make them retreat into a seamless whole, Pagano turns to wall paint and her keen eye for color.

Her dining room has many potentially somber elements, including her Art Nouveau fruitwood dining table and dark bookshelves lining two walls. But the room comes to life thanks to walls painted Hermes orange.

"I looked at this bag one day, and I just copied the color," she says. Now the room simply becomes a lush backdrop to another essential part of her life: producing a meal on her six-burner O'Keefe & Merritt Aristocrat range and serving it to friends. Like the rest of her deliciously eccentric home, the room takes second place to the art of life. Pagano would have it no other way.


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