A House Signed Starck

The open house presenting Philippe Starck’s latest offered — by invitation only — an irresistible chance to peer into the good life, and maybe mooch a few interior-design ideas. Not that you’d know it pulling up on Moore Street, in Mar Vista, across Palms Boulevard from Gregory Ain’s pitch-perfect modernist neighborhood. Starck’s two-level box home with a gray pitched roof and brown-over-white clapboard siding sits undistinguished amid a green lawn, an average postwar tract house on an average postwar street. A bit understated for the asking price of $1.9 million.

Price this Sunday afternoon was no object. Nor was it a subject — a glaring omission when you’re talking real estate, Los Angeles real estate. Today’s event was a looky-loo for design buffs, and when Frances Anderton, host of KCRW’s Design and Architecture, walked in, she immediately understood: “This is like a reunion,” she said, as she cast about the pristine, airy living room and realized she knew practically everyone there. The list of cognoscenti included Merry Norris, the art consultant; Michael Webb, the architecture writer; Barbara Bestor, the Silver Lake architect.

Who could blame them for showing up? The next best thing to attending a Benedikt Taschen bash for the irrepressible French designer with the notable potbelly and scruffy chipmunk cheeks is lolling in his very own L.A. hideout. (Starck, the real estate agent said, stays here with his friends, the owners, when in L.A.) Starck is a prolific designer — of chairs, orange juicers, toothbrushes, stuffed bears, shoes, lamps, toilet-training sets and hotels — who styles rakish curved lines and coaxes animal pleasure from the most prosaic materials, like glass and linen and leather.

Moore Street is bubblegum Charles Rennie Mackintosh, snowy-white floors and ceilings and beds (après the early-20th-century Scottish architect) offset by candy-color-coated walls. The tour began at the nondescript front door, where a pile of shoes indicated a sans chasseur protocol. We entered onto what used to be the cement slab of the original garage, now remodeled into an IKEA-furnished kitchen with an original Knoll rosewood oval table as centerpiece. The other floors in the house are made of rustic V-groove, a type of inexpensive wood siding. All of it is covered in a thick layer of two-stage epoxy paint, white as the enameled face of a French timepiece, and meant to be just as tough. Given that the house is described as a “designer surf shack,” removing shoes seemed unnecessary, and late arrivals ignored the cue.

Not that the dress code detracted from the fun, and the visual pleasure of Starck’s creation. The white floors made every piece of furniture eye-poppingly stark. Against that background, Starck’s pawn-shaped stools, his gnomes, clear plastic “Louis Ghost” regency chair, and antler and leopard-skin wing chair looked like individually lit museum pieces. The plum-pink stairwell leading up to the second-floor master-bedroom suite had a soothing effect as you spilled into the spacious white-on-pink-on-white loft. Nothing but air. Surrounded in a pink frame, the (what else?) white-white bed nearly hovers above the wood floor.

Much of this scheme Starck has cadged from his 1994 mail-order kit, the “3 Suisses Timber House,” including the batten-board pyramid ceilings, the hanging hammer beams, the louvered blinds, the clawfoot bathtubs, the Duravit wash basins (German-made, of his design). Not that anybody noticed the provenance, or cared.

The most interested prospective buyer, it turned out, was a 6-year-old named Morgan. His mother, her Gucci sunglasses perched tightly against her eyelashes, was informing the real estate agent that “My whole goal is to get out of LAUSD” — to which he replied that there are elementary school brokers who specialize in getting kids into out-of-district schools (so, presumably, you needn’t worry about where you buy). Meantime, Morgan energetically coursed from room to room, making pronouncements of his own.

Seeing the toilet in the master bathroom, he exclaimed, “Hey, this toilet is neato! Do you think I can flush it?” After he’d flushed all three toilets in the house, and tested each bathroom faucet, he declared, “I love it! Awesome!” Did he think his parents would buy it? “I don’t know if they have enough money,” he said keenly, aware that high finance was involved.

But on this day no money would change hands. Maybe, like the woman from Long Beach, potential bidders were concerned about the proximity of the power lines, a mere 20 feet away from the rear of the house. Maybe some thought it overpriced (even though it had been reduced from $2.1 to $1.9!). Maybe no one was ready to shell out that kind of dough until Starck had finally signed his work.

The real estate agent was apologetic, explaining that a chrome plaque, bearing the home’s address and the designer’s one-word autograph (Starck), was still at the plating company. Too bad. Then anyone whizzing up Moore Street would know which house was the Starck House and, like young Morgan, grasp its full value, inside and out.


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