12 / 12
In the outdoor living room, a vintage sofa and coffee table mix with Janus et Cie chairs.
Barbara King: Clearly, love is a many-splendored thing here in the Malibu Hills. That bedroom wall rivals romantic skywriting.
Todd Nickey: We looked forever for a piece of artwork to go above the bed. I mean, we ran the gamut—from landscapes to abstractions to an old Warhol. I reached the point of, I can’t look at this bedroom anymore! I said, ‘I’m going to hire somebody to come spray-paint a word on the wall, and we’ll be off the hook for now. And someday we’ll find something, and we can just paint over it.’
King: So it’s less about undying love and more like a temporary tattoo.
Nickey: It was supposed to be temporary, but it’s here to stay. If we do find a painting, we’ll hang one over it. Keep the love alive.
King: I guess it’s safe to say that these lovebirds weren’t going for formulaic decorating.
Nickey: They’re young, extroverted, open-minded, very colorful—not your traditional Hallmark family. Nothing stodgy about their taste. They were moving from a cool, modern Malibu beach house—a vertical house, with the Pacific Ocean as their front yard—to this sprawling Mediterranean-style spread, all on one level, in the mountains. And they only brought a couple of things with them. I said, ‘I don’t want to put a chandelier in the living room. That’s what someone would normally do—let’s do something more unpredictable and sculptural.’ I found this nine-foot-long Calderesque mobile in Palm Springs, and I knew right away it had to be the centerpiece of the room. When all the doors are open, when a breeze blows in and it’s moving, it’s lovely. It set the tone for the whole room.
King: How so?
Nickey: The mobile is a calming element, the way it sways so gracefully. There’s a quietness to the room, with all the pale neutrals and the simplicity of the lines—an airy spaciousness.
King: It looks spacious enough to host a debutante ball!
Nickey: Or to have their horses in there. It’s actually about 25 by 30 feet.
King: Did you have to tear down any walls to create that big, open space?
Nickey: No, we didn’t alter the architecture. We just stripped some paint away. Everything was white— the walls, the ceiling, the marble on the fireplace surround, the antique gilded mirror that’s next to the fireplace. There was even a white piano.
King: Oh my.
Nickey: Uh-huh. A white lacquered grand piano.
King: Did that sea of whiteness send you running straight to your color swatches?
Nickey: Color was sort of a stretch for us. We tend to be drawn to neutrals, or darks, with pops of color. Painting the dining room royal blue and the media room—we call it the Wii room—yellow really pushed us out of our comfort zone.
King: Were you prepared for that?
Nickey: From the beginning, we knew we were dealing with clients who were very color-expressive. The dining room was the office when Charles Bronson, the original owner, lived in the house. We found a photo of the room, and it was painted this electric blue. The wife said, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be great to take it back to this color?’ We matched it pretty closely, and we used glossy white trim to keep it from being too garish. We brought the Chanel pink wool tweed in the Wii room over to the clients, thinking we could do a pillow with it, and she was like, ‘What is this fabric? I love it!’ I said, ‘Well, we can do the whole sofa in it.’ She said, ‘Yes, yes! Bright! That’s what I want!’
King: That’s a lot of Chanel suit for a sofa to wear.
Nickey: What we were seeing more as an accent color, she was seeing as the primary color. So it sort of turned our design philosophy a little bit on its ear. But as I said, they’re a colorful family. From there we brought in the rich sunshine yellow for the walls, saturating the room. And we thought, pink, yellow— what’s left? Turquoise? Purple? So we had those curtains made of corduroy. We decided that if we’re gonna go for it, let’s totally go for it.
King: It could have gone all wrong.
Nickey: Horribly, horribly wrong. Which I was terrified of the whole time we were doing it. Oddly, it’s my favorite room in the house. It’s like when you’re afraid to go skydiving, and you finally do it, and you say, ‘This is amazing!’ I’m not afraid of bold color anymore.
King: Is there a color you’ll never use?
Nickey: I can honestly say that there isn’t. Unless it’s—my mother did a bathroom entirely in mauve when I was in high school. The sink, the toilet, the tile. She even put in a mauve phone! I think it was the safe ‘radical’ color of the era, kind of the equivalent of an asymmetrical haircut. Yeah, okay then. I’ll never use mauve.
King: Anything else you’ll never do?
Nickey: I’ll never, ever put a white lacquered piano in a house.
This article originally appeared in House Beautiful. Interview by Barbara King. Photography by Victoria Pearson.