By her own admission, the actorAnastasia Graffis a maximalist who loves “girlie things,” so it’s not altogether surprising that she wanted a periwinkle kitchen for her 1930s-era West Hollywood home. Still, such a bold choice could send some interior designers into a tailspin. “It’s rare,” admits Frances Merrill, who Graff enlisted to refurbish the 2,600-square-foot house, “that you have a client pushing you to be more colorful.” Since founding her firm, Reath Design, in 2009, she has become known for her elegant use of unexpected palettes and patterns. And so, “when she said purple,” Merrill continues, “I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’”
From the outside, the two-story three-bedroom house, set in the hills just above Sunset Boulevard, is more restrained than flamboyant. Clad in white-painted wood sidingwith a wide porch, it had appealed to Graff because it reminded her of the traditional wooden homes on the East Coast, where she grew up. But it didn’t hurt that the place is part of local lore: It once belonged to the Russian-born composer and conductor Igor Stravinsky, who lived in Los Angeles from 1940 to 1969, while he conducted the L.A. Philharmonic both downtown and at the Hollywood Bowl. During that time, he also made inroads in the film industry, notably allowing his 1913 masterpiece, “The Rite of Spring,” to be used in the 1940 animated Disney feature “Fantasia” — a history that inspired Merrill to decorate the home with alternating notes of gravitas and whimsy. “You realize in Los Angeles, there’s a story behind every house,” says Graff. “That’s how they sell you. They’re like, ‘Marilyn Monroe’s ghost walks the property!’”
In the living room, a Tom Wesselmann painting, at left, and a Bert Stern photograph flank a pair of couches and Sabine Marcelis coffee tables. At right is a Fratelli Levaggi chair.Credit…Joyce Kim
Graff had long been saving images with a view to one day create her dream home and sent them to Merrill for inspiration. There were pictures of classic American diners and screenshots of Slim Aarons’s louche, glamorous photographs. She also cited the work of the print-loving American decorator Dorothy Draper and of the designer David Hicks, a master of British eclecticism. Graff wanted to avoid the austerity of the many white modernist boxes that populate Los Angeles and instead lean into the grandeur of old Hollywood design — a vision that naturally aligned with Merrill’s preferences for saturated colors and lively juxtapositions. When the pair’s collaboration began, during the early days of the pandemic, “it was like having a pen pal,” says Graff, to whom Merrill would send packages of paint swatches in the mail.
In the kitchen, Merrill manifested the purple Graff had requested in the form of mauve cabinets with softly rounded corners that suggest both the glossy futurism and laminated lunch counters of the 1950s — an effect heightened by a scalloped stainless-steel oven hood. Their color is offset by a traditional checkerboard linoleum floor and an orange leather banquette where the family share their meals (Graff and her husband have two young children). Vintage lights, one shaped like an orange and another like a lemon, add some California kitsch, and a 1970s-era poster for the French release of “Fantasia” is a tribute to Stravinsky.
Graff and Merrill also found common ground in their shared love of wallpaper, choosing a dense floral pattern — pulled from the archives of the 226-year-old French company Zuber — for the dining room, and a Pierre Frey panther print for the powder room. “But we wanted the house to be coherent, and not go too crazy on the eye,” Graff says. So, in the former room, the busy motif is tempered by the streamlined silhouette of an oval lacquered wood table by the Swedish architect turned designer Gustaf Westman. That table is, however, bubble gum pink — “like Barbie in space,” she says.
Jewel-box shades of purple and pink are another through line. There’s the hyper-feminine, almost camp, salmon pink closet and dressing room just off the primary bedroom, where a Murano glass pendant in the shape of a heart — a light fixture fit for a Disney princess — hangs above an island with a scarlet crystal quartzite countertop. Directly adjoining is the primary bathroom, which contains a free-standing porcelain tub and a shower lined with amethyst purple tiles. And downstairs, the main foyer is a moody shade of rosé pink complemented by a banquette upholstered in a striped coral pink Dedar textile.
But Graff’s favorite space, the family room, is — at least in contrast to the rest of the house — relatively subdued, a reprieve from all the ebullience. A hand-painted silk de Gournay wallpaper in a tranquil shade of pistachio is illuminated by an Eos ceiling lamp that resembles a fluffy orb of exploding feathers. And while there are a few other florid gestures — including a chair with a daisy-shaped back by the London- and Milan-based Artefatto Design Studio — the room was designed with relaxation in mind, its layout centered on a pair of custom shell pink velvet couches, placed back to back. “It’s just a soothing and beautiful space,” Graff says.
For Merrill, though, an arrangement of subtly contrasting pieces in the living room best represents the lush, collagelike feeling of the house. Between two windows stands a vibrantly colorful Fratelli Levaggi chair — a reproduction of a classic 1950s turned-leg style that Merrill had repainted in vivid shades of cornflower blue, marigold and Kelly green — beneath an angular modern dark green glass sconce. Just as Los Angeles’s mishmash of architectural eras results in moments of unexpected beauty, the home’s clash of periods and styles is somehow harmonious — and, most of all, joyful. It’s a wide-ranging approach to design that Hollywood has long shared. Indeed, not long after the house was finished, Merrill and Graff caught word of the traveling exhibition “Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts,” which charted the animator’s little-known obsession with Rococo French design and how it influenced the look of everything from his cartoons to his theme parks. “When we saw that,” she says, “we were like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what we were doing!’”