FORMAL BUT but whimsical, the dining room in Chris Barnes and Maisha Closson’s home in Los Angeles’s West Adams neighborhood bursts with wildly disparate design references. How did local designer Dee Murphy, founder of Murphy Deesign, convince a wavy-fronted mahogany buffet to coexist with chairs as rigidly linear as Pierre Jeanneret’s 1950s designs; a live-edge dining table with an antique Turkish oushak rug? Shouldn’t the mix be as jarring as it sounds? Expert layering, said Ms. Murphy, comes of pairing hues, materials and shapes, not periods. “Anything that has history and has stood the test of time, those pieces you can always use no matter what,” she said.
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The aesthetic glue that unifies the dining room’s seemingly random components begins with the choice of William Morris’s Strawberry Thief wallpaper. The Arts and Crafts pattern, from 1883, features rhythmic flourishes of flora and fauna in enthusiastic colors. Its rich blues and luscious pops of berry red led Ms. Murphy to choose pieces with companionable hues and forms. “When I look at this room, what’s really tying it in and calming it down is the paint, wallpaper, window treatments and rug. Those were the base pieces, the starting off points.”
Here, the other decisions that helped this obstreperous collection of elements cohere.
Ms. Murphy admits she would normally set the finely detailed Indian chests against a less hectic, larger-scale wallpaper pattern. “But there was something about these chests and the black-and-white nature that felt neutral enough with a paper that’s just as busy,” she said. The camel-bone inlay, which depicts flat-petaled blossoms and spirals of climbing plants, also helps the little dressers jibe with the wall covering. Just as you can use a consistent palette to make a motley assortment of elements feel familial, she said, “you can use consistent themes to tie pieces in.” Scalloped-edge sconces from Nickey Kehoe allude to the red berries in the print, and the painting’s lyrical arches and color palette similarly reinforce the motifs of the paper.
Dissonance and Harmony
The brass base of the walnut-wood dining table has been fashioned into a butterfly, or wishbone, shape. “It’s about a contrast, right? And a tension,” explained the designer. “The table slab has a more masculine feel because it’s big, it’s heavy, it’s wood. Then, you have the curves of the legs supporting it, and that’s more feminine.” An industrial or hefty base would have been much more predictable and created a cluster of angled legs. The modernist chairs and boho mirrors, meanwhile, respectively masculine and feminine, resolve their tension via matching organic materials: cane and wicker. “It’s very subtle, but it’s something that a discerning eye can pick out,” said Ms. Murphy. “There’s a reason why it feels fluid.”
Curve Balls and Line Drives
Ms. Murphy carefully weighed the formal qualities of the furnishings she included. “Most rooms are square or rectangular, so you want to offset that and put some beautiful, curvy movement into the room,” she said. The undulating wallpaper pattern, the bow-front Federal-style sideboard, the looping wicker mirror frames, all contribute roundness. At the same time, angles and lines are needed to create dissonance. The sharply edged chairs were an inspired addition to the heart of the dining room, as was the slender, horizontal contemporary chandelier. Of her decision to hang a series of three petite mirrors from France she explained that repeating a single object allows you to make a statement but stops short of being garish. “If I had tried to add in a vintage, French, gilt gold mirror, that would have taken that moment a little too over the top.”
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