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Venice home's artful burst of color

Summoning friends in the entertainment and art worlds, Nely Galan turns her Steven Ehrlich-designed home on the Venice canals into a many-hued wonder.

June 18, 2011|By R. Daniel Foster, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Nely Galan's brightly colored "bolt and jolt" house on one of Los Angeles' Venice canals demands your attention.
Nely Galan's brightly colored "bolt and jolt" house on… (Lawrence Anderson, Lawrence…)

It's not every home that can teach you about light.

More art installation than house, really, one luminously redesigned residence on the Venice canals demands that you halt your walk and contemplate its spectral radiance. Saturated paints shift, gradate and commingle with the light. Sit and watch this home flex its wattage long enough, and you'll gain appreciation for the 2.8 million hues your eye is able to perceive.

"For me, this house is the most authentic I've ever been," said owner Nely Galán of three structures she recently renovated into a single compound, largely through color. "I felt successful enough to be this loud and congruent with my heritage."

Photos: Nely Galán's house

Galán, a Cuban-born, self-described "Latina media dynamo" and formerly president of entertainment for Telemundo, bought a Steven Ehrlich-designed house in 1999 after she slipped a note under its door that read, "I love your house. Tell me who your architect is." Six months later, the owner gave Galán first option to buy the three-bedroom home, which straddles a "T" canal and has a commanding channel view.

Within two years Galán bought two 1920s cottages next door. She planned a $1.5-million renovation to unify all three houses in 2008, but the economy pitched. She canceled plans to clad the structures with Corten weathering steel and instead simply used paint to marry the buildings. Acting as her own contractor, she also removed a 6-foot wall between the houses, creating a central courtyard, and replaced finishes on floors, walls and cabinets, among other cosmetic upgrades.

No stranger to large productions with pared budgets, Galán tapped Hollywood connections versed in construction and artistry.

"I was happy to employ people I knew in the bad economy," said Galán, who lives with husband Brian Ulf, 11-year-old son Lukas and a miniature Yorkshire terrier, Desi. "I fed everyone well and we laughed a lot. I rank it as one of the happiest experiences of my life."

Artist and colorist Patssi Valdez managed the color scheme.

"She didn't realize how difficult it was to combine the colors," said Valdez, who lives and works in Echo Park. "I knew they could become garish if they weren't balanced."

The women studied photos of homes in Cuba, Greece and Italy and the late architect Luis Barragán's projects to arrive at orange for the Ehrlich house, yellow for what has become the Hawaiian-themed guesthouse, and pink and fuchsia for the back clapboard studio, colors that burn to flamingo under eaves during a zenith sun.

Valdez began her three-month task by cladding walls with Pantone colors on a computerized model.

"It was a challenge because the colors they picked — they were so bright and sensitive and they can easily shift," said Heberth Fernandez, a 14-year veteran at Cox Paint in Culver City who said he had never mixed such luminous colors. The pink alone took a whole day, he said.

"We drove him crazy," Galán said. "But he just laughed at us."

Valdez later worked on a similarly colorful project for a different client and was met with disbelief, she said. "The mixer looked at me like I was out of my mind. 'Lady,' he said. 'We can't do this.'"

Valdez used many hues to color-shape Galán's structures, adding greater delineation to the faceted, block-like Ehrlich house. The sophisticated shadings lend a trenchant depth.

Grounding colors of gray and blue generate contrast and allow the eye to rest. Gray appears on courtyard pavers, railings, steps, fixtures and gates. Cobalt blue trims windows, covers a garage door and coats smaller architectural features, including the chimney.

The front canal presents a mirror to the property, at dusk reflecting the Ehrlich home as a cheery Chinese lantern. Galán's take: "A modernist Latino painting."

The interior is blessedly white on white. The home has a restive, spa-like calm with its 21-foot waterfall sheers. Window and doors are trimmed in cool celadon. Valdez's magical realist paintings (Galán is a major Valdez collector) add points of saturated color.

But not even the home's white interior is safe from the exterior paint's power, which invades through windows, blushing walls with color.

The home demands to be stared at — and discussed, much like Galán's larger-than-life life, which has included her role as executive producer of the 2004 Fox reality show "The Swan," which gifted women with extreme makeovers, including plastic surgery.

Locals say the Galán compound's fresh face adds to Venice's famed carnival ambience. Eight coats of paint were required to achieve the degree of irradiance the structures throw off. On a Seattle home those colors could stun, but the optics suit Venice's clear, sun-soaked air.

"Very much like old Venice, but dolled up," area artist Billy Al Bengston said of Galán's 1920s cottages. "Like old bags with a lot of makeup, but very good makeup. I took Anjelica Huston by and she loved it, and I certainly lit up Frank Gehry's ears about it."

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