The story of the renovation of a classic Beverly Hills residence to its original splendor, by architect Kenneth Lee and interior designer Thomas Beeton, echoes the image of one of Michelangelo’s unfinished “Slaves” sculptures, in which a magnificent figure emerges from a block of stone.
It represents the triumph of a collaboration between enlightened patrons (an executive in the entertainment industry and his wife) with Lee and his longtime friend Beeton. Both designers believe that Los Angeles still is home to dwellings with great bone structure—if one is willing to chip away and edit.
The goal was to restore the home to its 1930s glory. This harkened to the early aesthetic of Hollywood: a Mediterranean villa, spacious, breezy, well lit. Nothing ostentatious. Once restored it would fit right into a neighborhood that, at various times, included such famous personalities as Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, Rosemary Clooney, not to mention Madonna.
The project took just under two years. It required stripping back decades of accrued design concepts. Architect Lee and his team understood exactly what the owners wanted: to peel back to a structure whose aura reflects its history.
Architecturally, the effort ranged from attention to minor details, like the restoration of the original mouldings, to substantial efforts, such as the style and technique of exposed beams and poured concrete in a corner library that was inspired by those in the Hollywood Boulevard landmark restaurant, Musso and Frank’s.
The goal—magnificently realized—was to create an environment that at once is both historic and beautiful, and that can not only accommodate intimate weekday family gatherings, but host up to twenty weekend guests as well. The result is an access friendly residence reflecting the simplicity of contemporary living with a distinguished traditional exterior, accentuated by a sense of space that flows in shimmers of natural light from the French doors in the living room to the interior courtyard, complete with fireplace.
The atmosphere is reminiscent of a California mission—open, balanced and proportional. Its rectilinear layout stabilizes space and makes it coherent, stately and monumental, practical and beautiful—designed to enhance the minimal yet exquisitely wrought flourishes. Beeton describes: “It’s like buying a tailor made suit. It’s not just how it looks, but how it feels.”
The project required the removal of layers of needless faux paintwork to unveil the elegant physical shape of the vaulted gallery. The original floor that had been covered with plywood was exposed, and the prior paint scheme, best described as a riot of color, was replaced with creamy, warm, and comforting hues.
None of this would have happened without the cooperation and the shared vision that accompanies the bonding between patron and artist. Beeton recounts that the couple were ideal clients who not only knew what they wanted but also were consistent in their aesthetic. The wife believed that whether it was upholstery, furniture or objets d’art, a successful design required one deft, appropriate touch. Beeton, along with Kenneth and the client, scoured antique shops and furniture stores from Harlem to San Francisco, along with Los Angeles resources, for that appropriate item, that appropriate touch.
It was this assemblage of prior relationships—the owners and Kenneth Lee, Lee and Tom Beeton, Tom Beeton and the owners—that allowed for the congenial free and open communication by which the home, in effect, built itself, and represents a structure and living space that both looks back to the future and forward to the past.