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Staying neutral with a gray palette

David Meister and Alan Siegel prefer grays to splashes of bright color in their Sunset Strip-area home. The subtle shades help emphasize their art and the views outside.

February 19, 2011|By David A. Keeps, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Guetzlaff descends the spiral staircase leading up to the master suite.
Guetzlaff descends the spiral staircase leading up to the master suite. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

Women's fashion designer David Meister and Hollywood talent manager Alan Siegel live somewhere over the rainbow. Except for potted greenery and bursts of red in their artwork, almost everything in the couple's home high above the Sunset Strip is a shade of gray.

On the first floor, the rooms are painted entirely in Benjamin Moore grays — no fewer than five grays for the walls, two silvery tones for the trim and two cool grays on the ceiling. Even the built-in closets and dressers faced in quarter-sawn oak in the master suite upstairs are finished to a mushroom hue. Rugs, sofas, chairs, bedcovers and throw blankets are in colors best described as smoke, stone, taupe and the grayish beige that decorators call greige.

"I work with color and pattern all day long," says Meister, who has dressed Diane Lane for the Oscars and designed Valerie Bertinelli's vibrantly blue wedding dress, recently seen on the cover of People magazine. "We have such hectic lives, when I come home and shut the door, I don't want to see any color or print."

Or, for that matter, anything other than Petey, their black and white Havanese puppy, who has his own gray crate.

At a time when HGTV devotes entire shows to demonstrating how splashes of color can perk up a room, Siegel and Meister didn't want anything with pop or punch, thank you very much. For them, a carefully chosen palette of what they call "non-colors" keeps an emphasis on the views outside the window and the art on their walls. Thus, gray.

Citing the trend of chalkboard paint in cafes and residential kitchens, architectural color consultant Leesa Martling says that gray, which once seemed depressing, now makes an impression.

"Maybe we needed a new neutral to create a calming environment in these hectic times," she says. "The advantage of gray is that it fades into the background. White walls do not. White can be quite loud."

Gray, on the other hand, creates a "calm, considered background in a home," she says. Whether pale or dark, gray looks good when paired with vibrant or muted color, and it also looks smart and crisp when paired with white. "Sparkly objects such as mirrors and chandeliers look very exciting against muted shades of gray."

For Siegel and Meister, the celebration of gray started with a task that is as clear as black and white: containing clutter. Working with interior designer Timothy Guetzlaff of TMG Associates in Palm Springs, they installed a Boffi kitchen with pull-down tambour metal doors to hide small appliances. Elsewhere in the house, the designer created custom cabinetry to stash books, papers, belts and boots. (Meister places his shoes on shelves with one facing in and the other out so, the fashion designer says, "you can see what kind of heel height and toe shape you're working with.")

The result looks as sleek as a suite in a New York boutique hotel. Although some homeowners crave the layered, lived-in look, Siegel and Meister desire the opposite.

"Everything is put away," Siegel says. "You don't see any signs of life. It's very peaceful, and there is solitude and time for reflection. And when people come over, they go right to windows and say, 'Oh my God, the view!' "

Facing south, the windows in the living room, dining room and kitchen afford vistas of the city from downtown to the ocean. Siegel fell in love with the location and the killer views and bought the house in 1996.

"I remember taking Estelle Getty, who was my client, to see it and she said, 'What a view … of everyone else's rooftops,' " Siegel recalls.

Meister was even less impressed. The original owners had lived there until the late 1980s and then left it to a relative, and the house sorely needed an update. "Nothing had been done. The carpets were shredding off the floor," Meister says. "I couldn't see past the ugly. I thought, 'Just give me a bomb.' "

Built in 1939, the 2,250-square-foot house was traditional for its time, a California Colonial with a Cape Cod bay window in front. The stucco exterior with clapboard siding on the second floor was painted a pale buttercup, the sash windows and shutters were white.

"It was so far from what we wanted, there wasn't anything to save," says Siegel, who describes it as the worst house in the best neighborhood.

The first improvement: Knocking through the walls of a sun porch and integrating the window-lined space into the living room. They replaced a metal roof made to look like Spanish tile with seamed sheet metal, and they stripped away every piece of trim and molding, creating a smooth stucco exterior with glass front doors and new minimalist black steel-framed windows.

"I am a big believer in having a formal dining room and a living room to entertain," says Meister, noting that they retained the original floor plan of rooms that flow around a central staircase.

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