Kelly Wearstler, famous for her scene-stealing hotel decor, tones things down for a young L.A. family

A few years ago, when fashionable people in Los Angeles still craved shabby chic houses outfitted with pale, baggy slipcovers and chipped furniture, Kelly Wearstler had to turn down jobs. “I would not have had a good time with that style,” says Wearstler, currently one of L.A.‘s hottest design stars. “It’s too sloppy for me. And it’s so easy that anyone can do it with their eyes closed. I prefer something more interesting and challenging.”Since 1995, when she opened her own firm, kwid (the name is an acronym for Kelly Wearstler Interior Design), it has been Wearstler’s instinct to celebrate crispness over slouchiness, artifice as opposed to the natural, and campy drama rather than quiet good taste. Her signature style is a bold, tonic concoction that looks like a collision between neoclassicism, glamorous old Hollywood sets, Asian style, and elegant modernity—all of it drenched in strong color. This is movie-star glitter, and it is currently on display at four of Southern California’s chicest boutique hotels, including the recently opened Viceroy in Santa Monica.

But when Wearstler designs residences, such as this L.A. house for a couple with two young boys, she often tones things down to make a space livable in the longer term. Here the wife wanted antiques and comfortable rooms as well as the outré vintage pieces and the spiciness that are Wearstler’s trademarks.

The couple had purchased a lot in a tony subdivision ten minutes from Beverly Hills. It came with a set of plans for a Shingle Style residence reminiscent of East Coast architecture. While they didn’t want to toss the plans entirely, they did want to customize their house. So they hired L.A.–based architects Tichenor & Thorp to refine the quietly traditional design and turned to Wearstler for untraditional interiors. Wearstler nixed the plans for a predictable straight–laced staircase that would run against the wall in the foyer. Instead she designed a sinuous, floating flight that Fred Astaire could have danced on as nicely as he did in Top Hat. “I like all colors of wood, but the sophistication of this house lent itself to very dark brown,” she says. “It makes the staircase—and furniture—seem more important.”

The stair hall’s pared–down elegance gives way almost immediately to an over–the–top rhapsody in yellow. First Wearstler painted the living room walls a shiny, semi-gloss medium yellow. Then, on rich herringbone floors, she placed sofas, chairs, and tables from a jumble of places and periods, and united them through an assortment of upholstery fabrics, most of which are as deep a yellow as yield signs. Wearstler likes the fun of mixing things up, from English Regency pieces to 1960s American ones.

“You just look at the forms, making sure that the different pieces have a nice dialogue with one another, that it’s not forced,” she says. “You need to mix some clean–lined furniture along with some organic examples.”

In the theatrical dining room, a vintage oval mirror with big, beautiful beading was painted white to contrast with dark gray walls. Instead of the predictable crystal chandelier, a collection of vintage milk glass light fixtures made from the 1920s through the ‘40s hang from the ceiling like so many paper lanterns at a carnival. “They’re pieces of Americana, not palatial,” Wearstler says. “We had them drilled and added metal finials to give them a little more layering.” Surrounding the table are ten showy oval-back chairs—six are 1920s French and four are copies. Wearstler painted them bright white and upholstered the seats in a hot coral silk satin. She says the riotous color “gives the room energy.”

In the master bedroom, Wearstler used a minimalist palette of dark gray and French white, the strict color scheme organizing everything into a bold, dramatic design. She wallpapered the guest room with a teal–and–poppy–colored print, alive with parrots and feathery bamboo, that is both amusing and pretty. In every room, she juggles the elements with a startlingly open mind ruled by a sure hand.

“The point is that you pull up to the curb, see the outside, and expect to encounter the same East Coast vibe inside,” say Wearstler. “Instead you see a very sophisticated, unexpected interior with many features, many periods of furniture, and many textiles.”