How to make a splash

Bold colors leap out against a neutral backdrop
Kathryn Harris

Opposites attract, but what happens when they marry and move in together? Caitlin Blue knew she would need more than her professional expertise as a Disney set decorator when it came to renovating her first home with her husband, Eric Waterman. "She's eclectic and funky, and he's a modernist," says Julie Hart, the designer who collaborated with Blue on the project. "Everything was a negotiation and a trade-off." Hart helped transform the 1950s California ranch-style house in L.A.'s Pacific Palisades neighborhood into a vibrant, contemporary home for the couple, who are expecting their first child.

The biggest challenge was color.

Blue has a great need for it; Waterman - like his photography collection, which embraces Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans - leans toward black and white. He insisted on white walls in most of the common areas (with the exception of a single olive green wall in the living room); oak floors stained dark chocolate; and a profusion of custom white kitchen cabinets embellished with sedate charcoal-colored quartz countertops.

So Hart and Blue restrained themselves to splashes of intense color - primarily orange and aquamarine - which became even more striking against the neutral canvas. In the kitchen, they used Blue's cache of 1950s brightly colored pottery to accent the Shaker-style cabinetry. Hart painted the cupboard interiors a vibrant orange.

In the bathroom, working within Waterman's white-on-white dictum, Blue and Hart added texture with hexagon-shaped marble floor tiles. Landscape architect Russ Cletta designed an exterior side-yard wall to be viewed from the bath - for which Blue unearthed 1950s subway-style tiles in orange, which were juxtaposed with a turquoise urn that Cletta transformed into a fountain. "It's like a constant sunset," marvels Cletta, who also installed an outdoor shower and a tumbled blue-stone pathway leading to the pool and backyard.

Flanked by ipe (Brazilian wood) decking, the 50-foot-long azure pool is backed by a dramatic 60-foot retaining wall. Cletta designed an elevated concrete deck with an L-shaped ipe bench softened with cushions covered in the now-familiar oranges and blues, along with grays and rusts. At night, the couple roasts s'mores over the firepit. "Who knew you could stare into a fire for hours?" asks Blue, laughing.

Meanwhile, Waterman has started to collect color photography. "The house has taught us so much," he says. "We're evolving together."

Design:  Julie Hart and Associates, Santa Monica (310/450-5443)

Landscape design:  Griffith & Cletta, Venice, CA (310/399-4727)