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California Cool

Martha Stewart Living, September 2008

Ever since Sally and Michel Perrin relocated from Paris to Los Angeles two years ago, their 13-year-old daughter, Emma, has been a junior ambassador for the Southern California lifestyle.

"I love it here. I really like to have pool parties," she says, gesturing through a wall of glass doors to the lush backyard and swimming pool at her family's Beverly Hills home.

Although this four-bedroom 1950 gem, designed by Victor Gruen (the architect known as the father of the American shopping mall), is of special interest to architecture buffs, to Emma it's just home.

No wonder her classmates and the guests at the many dinner parties thrown by her parents like to spend time here.

With help from a Parisian friend, interior designer Chahan Minassian, the Perrins have created an anomalously cozy mid-century paradise.

It's no small feat to maintain the angular, spare integrity of a modern California house and soften its edges enough to make it a comfortable, albeit chic, family home.

Round Shapes
To break up the interior's open, boxy plan, Minassian divided the main living area into separate sitting rooms and relied on round shapes -- in the form of a semicircular sofa, vintage Warren Platner stools, a glass cocktail table, and a plush circular rug underfoot -- to counter the sharp lines.

Richly textured linen, silk, and woolen upholstery give the period-appropriate decor an intimate feel. A palette of off-whites, pale grays, and ice blues adds to the tranquil atmosphere.

And then there's the abundant natural light. "You practically have to wear sunglasses inside the house," Sally says.

The couple, who met in the United States more than 20 years ago, move with ease between the two continents. Michel grew up in Limoges, France, and is the chairman of his family's business, Perrin Paris 1893, a French leather-goods company that has recently begun producing designer handbags.

The Perrins still keep an apartment in Paris, where their older daughter, Chloe, is finishing school. When it came time to move back across the Atlantic, however, their trove of formal French antiques stayed put. Their home in Los Angeles is like the city itself -- of a much more recent era.

"We brought our art with us, but not much else," Sally says.

The collection, like its owners, is smart, stylish, and a little unpredictable. A French Cubist painting from the 1930s hangs in the music room, and an abstract work by American artist Nancy Lorenz graces the wall above the fireplace.

"Michel and I both feel it's very important to move forward and not get stuck," Sally says of their decision to furnish the house from scratch.

Something More Authentic
Though Los Angeles is filled with faux French chateaus, the Perrins were in search of something more authentic.

For Sally, that meant an uncluttered space with plenty of glass to take advantage of Southern California's indoor-outdoor lifestyle.

To enhance the flow between interior and exterior spaces, Minassian painted the ceilings inside the home and over the patio a soft white.

Even the light fixtures were painted the same pale shade to create a calm, cohesive effect throughout the property.

"We'll give people a tour and I'll say, jokingly, 'This house is the size of your pool cabana,' " Sally says. "We simply don't need more.

"I am an editor by nature," she adds. "Whatever it is -- a photo album, my playlist, my home -- I have to bring it down to the essentials, what is best and nothing more."

Here, it seems, in their thoughtfully designed house, her mission has been accomplished.

For more photos of the Perrin home, take a look at our photo gallery.

Text by Christine Lennon; photographs by Frederic Lagrange

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