Thomas Beeton and Tichenor & Thorp bring new life and unpretentious style to a Los Angeles residence

The best designers and architects possess a sixth sense that allows them to see possibilities where others see only problems. Designer Thomas Beeton and architects Brian Tichenor and Raun Thorp knew that this Brentwood residential project had great promise. They also knew that they would have to work together, and work hard, in order to fulfill that promise.Of the group, Beeton was commissioned first. Client Angelika Hederer met the designer through a friend at a photo shoot of a nearby house also designed by Beeton. She liked what she saw and approached him with her own commission involving a one-acre site with breathtaking views of the Santa Monica canyon. Beeton immediately grasped the project’s potential, but he also recognized the need for extensive landscaping and architectural work. He couldn’t do it alone. Enter partners Brian Tichenor and Raun Thorp, Beeton’s longtime friends and kindred spirits in design sensibility. The three collaborated from day one, blurring the traditional boundaries between architect, designer, and landscape architect. “The whole team flowed effortlessly,” Beeton comments. “And the clients just got out of the way. They went to Europe. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”A multi-faceted program involved a complete overhaul of earlier renovation/remodeling efforts effected during the family’s 15–year residency. The design team wanted to capitalize on the superb location by expanding outdoor entertainment areas. Of course, the project also had a significant decorative component that allowed Beeton to work his inimitable brand of design alchemy.

The main challenge was immediately obvious to all. The two-story house had awkward circulation and an assortment of small, enclosed rooms. The situation, according to Beeton, was at odds with the open/inviting layout envisioned by the clients, a gregarious European couple who enjoy house guests and parties. In short, the layout was no longer viable. The mandate, according to Thorp, “was to look at the house and see how to reorganize it for living. Yet we didn’t want to disturb the original aesthetic with roots in California modernism.”

Interior alterations encompassed both public and private areas, beginning at the entry. Originally there had been a clumsy transition from the exterior to the interior due to the position of the stairway and powder room, as well as the lack of a hallway enclosure. By changing the stairway’s orientation, adding a wall, and relocating the all-too-public bathroom, the design team created a proper foyer and reinforced the spatial realignment with slate flooring and a staircase influenced by Japanese design. Next, living and dining areas were differentiated by the addition of a substantial square archway, which created a corner cube volume that helped ease the shift between 17–ft. and 8-ft.–high ceiling planes. The wall above the cube projection is also new, enclosing the former balcony of a small home office.

Reworking private areas, the team designated the former master bedroom as the daughter’s space, gave it special access through the addition of a spiral stairway, and formed a new master suite by consolidating bathrooms, closets, and an existing bedroom. The reconfigured master suite encompasses an elegant wood-paneled dressing room, limestone bath, and sleeping quarters with spectacular canyon views. “Now,” says Thorp, “the spaces are organized and clarified. Before they had been like a run–on sentence needing punctuation.”

Alterations to the house’s exterior effectively added another 500 sq. ft. of usable space to supplement the 5,000–sq.–ft. interior. A mundane driveway was transformed into a gracious courtyard with concrete paving, an above-ground fountain backed by a trio of columns, an outdoor fireplace, and a new garage that partially encloses the open space. The former garage was integrated into the main house as one of its most charming features: A combination gym and meditation center, it is an airy room that can be opened onto the patio by way of sliding panels constructed from specially framed, antique Japanese summer doors.

“There is nothing better for interior design than strong architecture,” says Beeton. “I never want the decorating to smother the architecture.” With this in mind, he gave nearly a third of his designated decorating budget to the architecture process, yet still managed to pull together a scheme that makes no compromises in quality.

Beeton’s style is distinctive yet never repetitive. He builds his interiors on “neutralscapes” of color and fabrics. “Beige interiors are easy; they’re analogous to wearing black,” he says. But it is just these recessive backgrounds that allow selected elements to shine, and Beeton’s pieces, reflecting an unerring eye, present an intriguing blend of antique, modern, exotic, and humble elements. “Because there’s so much stuff around and it’s so expensive,” Beeton comments, “I choose carefully, go slowly, and investigate. Authenticity as it relates to the clients’ real lives inspires me. That’s the key.”

For this project, Beeton’s eclectic approach embraces a broad range of stylistic and aesthetic influences. The entry pairs a 19th-century Irish chair with a French Art Deco table against the backdrop of the Asian-inspired stairway and an arresting Chuck Arnoldi canvas. In the living room, classic tuxedo sofas, upholstered in shimmery platinum velvet, harmonize with a Jean Michel Frank-inspired coffee table, a Christian Liaigre leather chair and the client couple’s own antique English pedestal table and chest. What pops out here are the exotic accessories: a Japanese scroll and gold-paneled screen, an antique Korean bowl, and a pair of understated fluted plaster columns from the 19th century. “I respect these objects and antiques,” says Beeton, “because they’ve made it. They’ve survived.” In the dining room, Beeton mixes icons of Italian and American design, notably Mario Bellini Cab chairs and a vintage George Nelson Bubble lamp. A 19th–century tansu and bronze urns from the Han Dynasty bring the East into the mix. All are anchored by an ebonized floor.

Despite the diversity of elements, the interiors hold together. The most cogent unifying force is an intangible quality of serenity. Contributing to the harmonious effect are certain materials—slate, wood, polished concrete, and sisal—added, says Thorp, “to conjure a subdued kind of luxury.”

Changed and drastically improved, this house makes a strong case for sensitive and selective remodeling rather than wholesale demolition, which is the norm throughout Los Angeles’s west side. “The former structure had a lot of stop and start,” says Beeton. “We got rid of the stop and let it go—whether by feng shui, logic, or luck.”

Credits for the project extend to Laura C. Mitchell, project manager from Beeton’s office, and to Mark Przekop, Bill Beeton, Myva Newman, and Polly Hornburg from Tichenor & Thorp.