The Mod Squad
A 1950's ranch house in Woodside, California, receives an authentic update by Charles De Lisle and Ian Moller
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 11/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Charles De Lisle was all set to enroll in the architecture program at the University of California, Berkeley. But then, while surveying a grand living room by Michael Taylor, came his "aha" moment. "Why spend years and go into debt when I already had skill sets for interior design," mused De Lisle, who was already a trained ceramicist, welder, and lighting designer. This sudden perception led to his joining forces with designers Marion Philpotts-Miller and Jonathan Staub. Today, 10-year-old De Lisle, Philpotts & Staub Interiors maintains offices in San Francisco and Honolulu, with a workload evenly split between residential and commercial projects.
There weren't similar bumps in the road for architect Ian Moller—unless you count the four years he worked in an avant-garde firm in Florence, Italy. Otherwise, his uninterrupted career path led from receiving his undergraduate degree in architecture from UC, Berkeley to 11 years at BAR Architects, where he met Stephen Willrich. The two went on to cofound the now decade-old Moller Willrich Architecture and Design.
De Lisle and Moller came together recently when a couple hired them to jazz up their 1950's William Wurster ranch house in Woodside, California. The 7-acre property, now with an Olympic-size swimming pool and a pool house, is a weekend retreat for the clients, who'd worked with Moller before, when he renovated their primary residence in San Francisco.
"Since I grew up in California," Moller notes, "I liked the house's nostalgia." He began the restoration by lifting the roof off the 5,200-square-foot split-level and pouring a new concrete slab, to update and expand radiant-heat flooring throughout the interior. The team then went to work on surfaces.
Outside, horizontal cedar planks replaced board and batten siding. For the adobe blocks inside, Moller and De Lisle decided on a fresh wash of ecru paint. Ceilings, which kept their original pitch, got new cedar planks spanning existing redwood beams. New mahogany frames for doors and windows echo the originals.
Except for slight alterations, the floor plan is intact. What worked for the clients was the single long center expanse containing the living and dining areas; the master suite and a guest bedroom and bath up three steps at one end; and, at the other, a two-floor wing with the two children's bedrooms plus media and game rooms. What didn't fly was the dull, cramped kitchen, which Moller enlarged by appropriating adjacent breezeway space.
While finishes were a collaborative effort, Moller laid primary claim to structure, space planning, and millwork. Furnishings were De Lisle's domain, and the result is anything but a labeled mix of period prizes. "Wurster's look was not one of mid-century perfection," De Lisle says, drawing on the research he did on the iconic architect in old design books. The designer hunted and he gathered and the ensuing ad hoc compilation looks as if it had been amassed by a discerning collector over decades.
What De Lisle couldn't find, he had made, like, for instance, the living area's settee covered in moss-green linen. An unfindable Edward Wormley piece, De Lisle resorted to having it painstakingly reproduced over a year-long period. The two opposing lounge chairs are interpretations of art deco originals. "Finding one thing led to others," he continues. An early-1950's table has brass embedded in its top. "It led to collecting more brass," he says, referencing the Gio Ponti pendant over the fireplace.
The Ponti fixture led the designer back to his early days in lighting design, evidenced in the dining area's chandelier, a minimalist De Lisle construction of hexagonal brass tubes. Its simplicity is echoed in the T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings chairs around De Lisle's boat-shape table, a surprising pop of turquoise plastic laminate that seats 10. The floor-to-ceiling divider between the dining and living areas was Moller's handiwork, paneling an existing partition in cedar and building in niches on either side. Works by Catherine Wagner and Barbara Takenage are there; a Chris Gentile photograph hangs from the architect's blued-steel rails in the living area.
Unexpected bursts of color appear elsewhere, too. "I'm crazy for leaf-patterned fabrics from the '50's," remarks De Lisle. So he made his own with photocopied images of local leaves printed on hemp. Their oversize tangerine and fuchsia likenesses appear in the media room as wall upholstery.
Another shock of pink shows up in the kitchen, on the cushion topping the designer's white-steel daybed. He further enlivened the space with a wide running bond of avocado green, ocher, rust, and cream ceramic wall tile in varying sizes, a pattern he repeated in the guest bathroom, but in red, brown, and white. The adjoining guest bedroom reads mostly red thanks to its spirited vintage Moroccan rug and Patricia Urquiola desk chair.
The master bedroom, in a quieter color palette, is sparsely furnished to showcase Moller's cedar-framed bed and wall-to-wall leather headboard. Another stunner is a cabinet by De Lisle that's fronted by a photograph he took of rolling hills, actually the view from his own house—fittingly, a 1954 Joseph Eichler ranch.
Photography by Art Gray.