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INTERIOR MONOLOGUE

1920s cabin makeover repurposes artifacts to retain its 'soul'

March 21, 2009|David A. Keeps

In her Los Angeles showroom, Suzan Fellman sells fabric and wallpaper by Oscar-winning costume designer Cecil Beaton and turns vintage designer scarves into pillows and upholstery for furniture with Lucite legs. At her two-bedroom Big Bear cabin, however, the sofa is slipcovered in Hudson Bay blankets, and kitchen chairs are draped with linen dish towels bearing fruit and forest prints.

"It's the country, and things are going to get dirty and tossed around," the designer says. "This is no place for white furniture. Everything needs to be more rugged and be able to get thrown in the wash."

After two decades in L.A., the New Hampshire native hankered for a four-seasons getaway where she could ski in the winter and make blueberry pies in the summer. Five years ago, she found a 1922 miner's cabin that took her breath away -- and not in a good way.

"It was deplorable," she says. "The city had condemned the property and said I had to tear it down."

Instead, Fellman rebuilt the 970-square-foot structure on a new foundation. She added double-paned windows, central heating and easy-care exterior siding made from James Hardie fiber cement board. During the rebuilding process, Fellman warehoused the original pine paneling. To alleviate claustrophobia, she also took down the rough-hewn pine boards that covered the low ceiling and painted the newly plastered surface white. She re-purposed those ceiling boards to create a wood-clad mudroom by the back door.

Fellman also recycled the carpeting, taking it to Bobcat Carpet & Fabric Care in West Los Angeles, where the pieces were cleaned, cut and bound into area rugs. She also reused lighting fixtures and furniture that came with the cabin.

"I didn't just want to throw things away," Fellman says. "Using things you find in a house helps maintain its soul."

The color palette includes dove gray for the floors, red in the kitchen and blue in the bathroom. Fellman also shopped locally.

"I had a monthly tab at Butcher's Block and Conklin Paint in Big Bear for lumber and paint," she says. "You can't set that up so easily in Los Angeles."

When it came to decorating, the glamour-prone designer imagined that her knotty pine paneled walls could talk. Though she favored rustic furniture and folksy textiles, Fellman also indulged her sense of fun.

"I don't mind a little nostalgia because that's what you want in a cabin," she says. "But I didn't want to make it look like Grandma lives here."

Snowshoes and skis are propped in the corners of rooms, paint-by-number landscapes hang on walls, and a nightstand is made from two stacked Coleman camping coolers. The kitchen is a small showcase of decorated plates, vintage cottage linens and enameled metal accessories.

"You can't have too many canisters." Fellman says. "Can you?"

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home@latimes.com

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