LOS ANGELES - Outside: classic architecture. Inside: anarchy.
It's not what you'd expect from husband-and-wife attorneys. But open the front door of this 1940 Spanish Revival house in a historic preservation zone and stand back: The entry walls have been painted egg-yolk yellow. The living room has fuchsia and lime green silk sheers, and hanging from the green ceiling is a banana-colored pleated light fixture that looks like a mushroom cap. The dining room walls are sunset orange, the chandelier shaped like a five-headed, multicolored sea creature. Underneath the light, spinning around on the Lazy Susan on the dining room table, is 2-year-old Miles Kottler.
And everyone's laughing.
Pity those poor people on the sidewalk who have no clue about the party here inside. Sure, this house's facade originally was designed to fit in with neighboring properties largely built by the same developer. But half a century later, it was purchased by Doug Kottler, who is crazy for color, and his wife, Mary, who gave up her khaki-loving ways for a spin in this kaleidoscope.
Although painting interiors in a neutral palette is fully in vogue, and this South Carthay neighborhood in Los Angeles practically bleeds beige, behind closed doors the Kottlers have unleashed the color wheel with seemingly wild abandon. When family friend Elda Ellis saw the house after the remodel, her pithy first assessment wa "Eclectic."
"When you walk into most people's homes, there are tasteful neutral colors - nothing offensive but also nothing that's interesting. Here, guests are blown away by so much color," says Doug, sporting a pink floral dress shirt and snazzy loafers, sans socks. He just hopes people see that the color serves a purpose, and it's "not like a paint store blew up."
ELEVEN years ago, the Kottlers discovered this house, a 3,000-square-foot one-story with a tidy lawn and stone path to the front door. The real estate agent immediately warned them of an oddity in the back, something the original owner planned to remove if requested.
The Kottlers waded through the front rooms, decorated "grandma style," Doug says, trying to be diplomatic. They squeezed through what Doug called a ridiculously small and depressing kitchen. Then they peeked at the three bedrooms, which had 60 years of wallpaper on the walls, Doug says. The layers were like a timeline: nursery prints, teenage floral, stripes for a father's study. The cramped master bath had a pink vanity and tiles that "looked like varicose veins," Doug says. "I like color, but this was blotchy."
Then they got to the bad part. Apologetically, the agent led them to what once was the back door of the house. Instead of a back yard, there was a 20-foot-square room that the original owner added on. "He designed it too, even though he had no building background," Doug says. "I think he was a handbag salesman."
On one wall: a brick oven the size of a single garage door. On another: a half-moon bar with a glass-block base and turquoise counter. On the floor: terrazzo with intersecting green and red rings and squares. The ceiling: bluish-green glass panels wrapped in chicken wire that could be rolled back to open the room to the sky.
The agent grimaced. The Kottlers turned to each other and knew right then: This was their house.
"We loved that there was no way of predicting that this room existed," Doug says. "It would have been criminal to destroy it, like smashing a stained-glass window."
THE odd room became inspiration to give the rest of the white-walled house some personality to match. But the Kottlers would have to do it without changing the exterior, as directed by the South Carthay preservation guidelines.
Two years ago, they embarked on a whole-house makeover.
"Everything needs to be interesting," Doug says, standing in his new kitchen with Durapalm coconut-palm wood cabinets, cork floors and lime-green glass tiles.
Comfort was good, but color was key. Doug made that clear during the couple's first conversation with Beverly Hills-based interior designer Malgosia Migdal. Doug took Migdal by the hand and led her to his closet: a rainbow of shirts, suits and shoes.
"Orange has been my favorite color for years," Doug says. "It's rich and interesting, and there are so many different shades." In the dining room, the walls above the wainscoting are painted Ralph Lauren Villa Torlonia. The chandelier by Aqua Creations has tangerine strips. Covering some of the original hardwood floors is a fawn and orange rug called Russian Box by Emma Gardner Design.
"I was slower to come to the table on some colors, especially when they were going to be used in large areas," Mary says. "Green tile for the whole kitchen? Really? But then I gave in. I had just had our second son, and I think they took advantage of that post-delivery delirium. Now I love it. I feel great when I'm in the home. It really is a happy place."
Ellis says her friends' house, once a series of confined rooms packed together, feels more spacious because of the colors, the glass tile and the integration of traditional elements with the modern. The result is a fun, cozy sanctuary, she says.
"There are a lot of colors in the house, but they make a lot of sense," Doug says. "You see shirts with one sleeve red and another one yellow, but there is no rhyme or reason. To me that doesn't make sense. But Malgosia came up with a sophisticated palette . . . .
"So it doesn't look like a pimp exploded," Mary says quietly, so that sons Nathan, 5, and Miles don't overhear it. "That's probably not the right thing to say."
A slightly off-color remark? It works here.