LOS ANGELES - When Ron and Deborah Rader first saw the pink stucco house with the glass-block walls, they were hit by a 1980s flashback. Rounded walls, whitewashed oak cabinets, blue neon illuminating the pueblo-style fireplace.
The four-story Playa del Rey house was a relic of the Reagan era, a place where design exuberance went unchecked. The entry's black-and-gold granite stairs had a glass railing wrapped in wood. Oversized corridors led to rooms painted in Miami Vice colors.
The 1989 house had been on the market for a long time, and the Raders could see why. But then they looked past the curved terraces and pink marble floors and thought they could remodel the structure into a modern dwelling filled with contemporary art.
They moved out of their tidy townhouse and into the 6,800-square-foot time warp. Deborah Rader is still astonished by the size.
"We didn't realize there were 44 doors. Six months into refinishing them, we put the workmen on our tax returns as our dependents," she jokes.
Four years later, the couple loves the transformation. "It lends itself for entertaining eight or 80," Deborah says.
The Raders stretched themselves financially to buy the house, then set out to remove frivolous layers of styling in a cost-conscious way. They hired architect Bret Thoeny of BOTO Design Architects in Santa Monica to erase the '80s in favor of a timeless design.
"We subtracted a lot of what was there to make a simpler box," says Thoeny, who doesn't conceal his distaste for what he calls the Pop architecture of that decade. "Drive around L.A., and there are the postmodern Michael Graves knockoffs that developers tried to copy because they thought it was neat. But today, those pastel colors, defining circles, fake pediments" - he laughs - "sorry, but it was old stuff applied to a modern formula, and it looks so dated."
Thoeny says the Raders had a vision of what they wanted: clean.
"We peeled off the front of the house from the sidewalk to the roof," says Ron Rader, a commercial real estate broker. They squared off the corners, replaced curved windows with 8-foot-tall sheets of green glass, and plastered on a smooth white coat.
Inside, to create a dramatic entry, they installed steel beams that rose three stories high and could support towering walls. Posed between the second and third floors is a life-sized sculpture by Chris Mason called Nick, the Climbing Man. If he were to fall, he'd land on the green slate that replaced the old black, pink and gold granite.
A carved double front door with curved sandblasted glass inserts was nixed for two 8-foot-high glass panels that pivot. A flight of stairs at the entry leads to the sun-filled living room. The new exterior railings are flat green bars that fit squarely into newly straightened corners. "Knife-edged," Ron Rader says, appreciating the railings' precision. "Some people love curves. There is a flavor for everyone. It just wasn't our flavor."
The floors on the second level were bleached oak, which the Raders had sanded down and stained cherry. The electrifying fireplace was elevated to float off the floor and finished in Venetian plaster.
They didn't change much in the kitchen: They kept the cabinets but added a white lacquer finish and marigold walls to pop out against the black granite counter. They removed dated and bulky built-in cabinets in the family room in favor of a free-standing aluminum cabinet to store their entertainment equipment. They also updated a mundane bar with a sheet of green glass affixed with stainless-steel caps.
The old master bath was pink marble with glass block. "We thought we could work around it, but we knew we would just hate it. . . . So we gutted it," Deborah says. "It was painful to hear that glass block shattering." They installed a polished-concrete floor, cherry cabinets, and green granite countertops.
"This is a place that brings me so much pleasure," Ron Rader says. "Every time I drive up to the house I get excited. Then I come up the stairs and see Deborah in the living area, and I look out the window and think how far away I feel from the city. It's as if we're in another world."
And, finally, another decade.