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Walls open onto a world of adventure

Muralist Alix Soubiran's home is a mini-global tour through the wallpapers she's been designing, called Princes & Crows.

January 01, 2011|By Emily Young, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Beyond Alix Soubirans front door, an archway is decorated with the Birds and Flowers design from Princes & Crows. The effect is cheery and welcoming.
Beyond Alix Soubirans front door, an archway is decorated with the Birds… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)

Alix Soubiran could live quite happily without a stick of furniture.

"A chair can be wonderful, but walls are what you see all the time," she says. "To me, walls that create a story or a mood are the starting point."

As a muralist, Soubiran is accustomed to using walls as a blank canvas. But she recently began experimenting with decorating techniques, creating a line of high-end wallpapers called Princes & Crows. Inspired by her memories of her native France, those designs have helped to transform a ramshackle 1923 duplex in Los Feliz into the charming home she shares with husband Joe Mauceri, a film and TV director and writer, and their 61/2-month-old daughter, Monica Moonshine.

The duplex, when the couple bought it in 2008, had holes in the ceiling, walls that weren't plumb and a kitchen burdened with an ill-placed toilet and Jacuzzi. Extensive remodeling made the home presentable and functional, taking full advantage of wraparound views of hedges and treetops outside.

But the Parisian-born Soubiran's wallpapered rooms are what give the place its homey Franco-California appeal.

Inside the front door, Soubiran wallpapered a broad arch in her Birds and Flowers print, welcoming visitors and setting a cheerful tone. Abstract flora and fauna in bold teal, green and brown frame the living room, where the walls are painted cream.

"I didn't want wallpaper everywhere because the house needs to breathe," Soubiran says.

The dining room sports Enchanted Gipsy, a geometric pattern that evokes the Orient. Printed on gold paper, the design glows behind a pair of sconces and, Soubiran says, "has a kind of mystery that melts into the room."

The muted blue stripes of French Room set a quiet ambience in the master bedroom. Soubiran first painted the design on the walls of her previous home in Florida.

"It was influenced by the interiors I've read about in books like 'Madam Bovary' and in poems by Baudelaire," she says. "I wanted something luminous, soft and restful."

When Soubiran was a child in Paris, her parents commissioned a mural depicting the discovery of the Americas.

"My sister and I asked the muralist to put us in the mural, and he did," she says. "We were two little girls holding hands on these tropical shores with a little monkey beside us."

Visits with her grandfather, noted French author André Soubiran, also made a lasting impression. "He had the Zuber wallpaper called the Views of Brazil," she says, referring to a 19th century scenic wallpaper printed with woodblocks. "We would steal peeks at it behind the books he had stacked to the ceiling. It was magic seeing an exterior on the interior."

An artist creating wallpaper is nothing new. Andy Warhol and Alexander Calder, among others, did it. But Soubiran has the benefit of modern technology: She paints designs by hand, then scans them into a computer. She and Mauceri can adjust colors and scale in minutes.

Soubiran's designs are manufactured by the Van Nuys company Astek, which produces digitally printed wallpapers, and by Commerce-based Advanced Screen Graphics, which uses the more traditional screen-printing process.

The artist's second Princes & Crows collection is for kids, but don't expect anything cute and cloying in predictable pastels and primary colors.

"I don't know who created that stupid myth of teddy bears and balloons," she says. "I hate walking into a beautiful house where the little girl's room is pink and very clichéd."

Her children's wallpapers are gender-neutral fantasies loaded with intricate details. Sea Ballet is an underwater world teeming with coral, eels and jellyfish. Major Tom depicts a kite-flying astronaut amid satellites and stars. In Circus Circus, a unicycle-riding fox shares the panel with a dancing poodle and a juggling cat. The wallpapers cost $135 or $185 a roll, depending on size.

Soubiran hasn't abandoned murals altogether. While pregnant last summer, she climbed scaffolding to finish painting a Napoleonic campaign tent on the walls of her daughter's nursery. Unlike wallpaper, the mural lent itself to the room's peaked ceiling and departures from the pattern, such as folds in the tent fabric and a painted cockatoo perched by the window.

What's next? "I'd like to create a big, panoramic wallpaper in the tradition of Zuber and Dufour," she says, citing French firms that date back more than two centuries.

Until then, she will focus on new patterns and new applications.

"I want to wallpaper the closets because I like surprises like that," she says. "No one else will see it, but I will. They'll be like little jewelry boxes."

home@latimes.com

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