“We wanted a trick–or–treat neighborhood,” say Thomas, who was an executive producer of Seabiscuit. She and Ross have 8–year-old twins, Jack and Claudia. “On the Fourth of July here, the kids make red–white–and–blue kites and put on their Rollerblades for the big parade.” Ross adds, “It’s not like you watch the parade. Everybody in the neighborhood joins the parade.”
Although the location was perfect, the five–bedroom, six–bathroom stucco residence built in the seventies lacked charm and character. So, Ross and Thomas enlisted Los Angeles interior designer Madeline Stuart and architects M. Brian Tichenor and Raun Thorp to oversee a transformation. “The house wanted to be a California ranch house, but it didn’t have the right vibe inside or out,” Stuart says. “Making it real meant making it more old–fashioned.” Tichenor adds, “We weren’t trying to make a monument to the past. We were trying to make a really beautiful, quiet house.”
First on the agenda: Replace the stucco exterior with clapboard siding. Next, install wooden–sash windows. The team also put in stone fireplaces and planted a vegetable garden in the yard.
The spacious home has a conventional layout supported by flowing spaces. The first floor is laid out like a t. The front door opens into a double–height foyer with whimsical red–spindle stairs. Beyond the stairs is the dining room. To the left of the dining room is the kitchen, and to the right, the interconnected den and living room. On the second floor are the kids’ bedrooms, the master bedroom and an office.
Throughout, Stuart used a saturated color scheme of terra cottas and teals against walls painted in mushroom or marigold hues. “A consistent palette infuses the interiors with calm,” she says. “Too many schemes and themes can make a home feel disjointed and chaotic.” Stuart chose furnishings for comfort and refinement, resulting in a house that is both showpiece and family–haven. “Minimizing patterns and using unfussy furniture keeps the rooms from looking stale and dated,” she adds. “Eclectic furniture with plush upholstery does the trick.”
Although the ranch–house style is classic American, Stuart’s decision to mix disparate items gives the residence a more rarified European feel. “There’s no logical reason you’d hang a delicate Venetian Fortuny chandelier over a farm table surrounded by wicker chairs, except that together they have a whimsical charm and a dressy prettiness,” Stuart says of the dining room. Certain juxtapositions create harmony, she says, such as the one between the den’s three–legged Welsh milking stool and Chinese rattan table. “I wanted these rooms to look like they were pulled together over time,” she adds.
Ross and Thomas are avid readers, and Stuart designed bookcases to house their large collection. Some in the living room were custom–made to resemble Chinese antiques; others were built into the den wall. “Usually decorators have to go out and buy books by the yard, but not here,” Stuart says. The one mandate the couple had for their bedroom was that it include a bedside table large enough to put books on.
One of the few rooms without prominent bookshelves is the kitchen, which was designed by Tichenor and Thorp. “We were interested in evoking older American kitchens,” Thorp says. “But we wanted to avoid white brick.” Instead they installed a quilted stainless–steel wall behind the stove as a nod to the diner in Pleasantville. The glass–front upper cabinets reference old–fashioned service kitchens, which were built with convenience and function foremost in mind. The floor is vintage Marmoleum—what Thorp calls “real linoleum”—a seamless, crevice–free material that is easy on the feet and a breeze to clean.
Throughout the house, order rules, and there isn’t a toy to be seen among the Pakistani rugs, leather ottomans and midcentury Danish pottery. After Jack and Claudia were born, Ross and Thomas converted the garage into a playroom, which Tichenor and Thorp also designed. The room is now home to a Lego castle, a train set and Rollerblades. “It’s not like we sequester the kids,” says Ross, a big man with an easy laugh, “but in the same way that I don’t bring my work into the living room, they don’t bring their toys into the living room. I don’t spread papers on the couches, and they don’t spread toys on the couches.”
It seems that Larger than Life, the name of Ross’s production company, is also how the family lives. The couple recently purchased a five–acre organic ranch north of Santa Barbara, and they’ve just returned home after a summer on the East Coast. For Thomas and the children, that meant Martha’s Vineyard. For Ross it meant attending Seabiscuit screenings, including one at the White House. An active Democrat—he wrote speeches for presidential candidates Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton—Ross looks guilty when the event is mentioned. “What are you going to do?” he says with a shrug. “They asked if we would show them the movie.”
Ross’s pragmatism and Hollywood savvy may have come from his father, Arthur A. Ross, also an accomplished screenwriter (Brubaker, The Great Race and Creature from the Black Lagoon). But the son set the stage for his own success early. Like the little boy in his movie Big who wakes up in an adult body and gets a job, Ross, at 15, shared an apartment in Washington, D.C., for the summer while he worked for Pete McClosky, then a congressman. Later, after dropping out of the University of Pennsylvania to take a job on a boat and gather experiences for his hoped–for great American novel, Ross ended up broke. His solution was to become a contestant on a TV game show, where he won $50,000. “I also won a thousand Clark bars, some Niagara spray starch, and a wet–dry vacuum,” he says of his appearance on Tic Tac Dough.
Two unpublished novels later, he found his creative home when he started writing screenplays for films, which he now also directs. Asked what sort of movie characters might live in a house like his, Ross laughs. “What I’d derive about the people who live here is that their lives are comfortable, informal, a little flamboyant, festive,” he says. “There’s a certain amusing nature to the furnishings. We have a coffee table that’s a big ottoman, so you can sit on the coffee table if you want.” Pointing to a bronze Tibetan antique, he adds, “And look, here’s a huge foot sitting on this table.” Nothing like living larger than life.