By Victoria Namkung | April 27, 2011 | Lifestyle
The clean and modern dining area
The light and airy living room with coffee and corner tables designed by homeowners Larry Dias and Chris Cornwell
The open kitchen with Emperador marble countertops and custom white-oak cabinetry
Dias and Shafferâ€™s bedroom
|Larry Dias and Trey Shaffer|
Oscar-nominated Inception set designer Larry Dias is a long way from the dairy farm he grew up on with his six siblings in California’s Central Valley. The Hollywood megatalent, who has brought sets to life for films such as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and the upcoming Battleship, lives on a peaceful Laurel Canyon street in a 2,400-square-foot home that resembles a modern cabin from the exterior. “When you get off work it’s a wonderful escape, but you can still be on Sunset in five minutes,” says Dias.
Ten years ago, Dias bought the fixer-upper with his longtime friend art director Chris Cornwell, who is currently at work on the new George Clooney film The Ides of March. “It was pretty much a pink and white stucco box with strange cut-up rooms connected by long, narrow hallways,” says Cornwell. They planned to flip the house but quickly realized it worked well as a shared living space because the two master suites, offices and baths were on opposite ends of the home, connected by a spacious living area and kitchen. “It’s kind of unorthodox, but it’s really easy since we all often do location work and are seldom here at the same time,” says Dias.
The duo has created a modern take on the midcentury California ranch-style house. They added large windows, skylights and glass doors to bring in more light and chose a neutral, earth-toned palette for everything from the chocolate-colored wool rugs to the light-hickory wood floors. To give the backyard a chilled-out Zen feel they brought in bamboo and bonsai trees and Asian lanterns. The kitchen, where Dias and his graphic-designer husband, Trey Shaffer (who is currently working on Marvel comics: The Avengers), love to cook, features dark brown Emperador marble countertops and custom white-oak cabinetry that discreetly houses appliances, as well as dishes and glassware. The two elegant baths have Portuguese limestone slabs in lieu of tile, and there’s a spacious soaking tub in one for the six-foot-four Cornwell.
The airy living room is outfitted with customdesigned sofas, hot-rolled-steel coffee and corner tables designed by Dias and Cornwell, antique Korean and Japanese chests, Chinese root stools and 15 botanical prints from the 1800s that Dias found while on location in rural Pennsylvania and framed. A projector is hidden behind a hinged frame so the area becomes an instant screening room, complete with an eight-foot retractable screen. Dinner parties for 10-plus people and film nights with family and friends are regular occurrences.
Dias and Shaffer’s bedroom houses antique Japanese tansu chests as side tables, custom-fabric roller shades and an Asian screen that acts as a headboard. Near the home’s entryway are Swiss Kurt Thut chairs, an Eames table and massive built-in shelves (complete with an industrial-style ladder Dias made) that hold hundreds of books on art, travel, filmmaking and Hollywood. There are unique finds and souvenirs in every room, from a collection of miniature-globe coin banks from the 1930s and framed arrowheads to African wood masks and colorful art glass. The house feels like a carefully curated spot—an easy mix of modern and antique—but without any pretension or attitude.
Dias, who once considered working as a costume designer, had no idea he would end up one of Hollywood’s top set decorators. While studying fashion design at Otis College of Art and Design, he met Cornwell, who was working in the art department on the 1989 Elizabeth Taylor TV-movie remake of Sweet Bird of Youth. Dias was on summer session from Otis and working part-time selling shoes at Bullock’s at the Beverly Center and was happy to spend a few days on-set with his friend. “It just hit me, and I [took to] it like a fish [to] water,” he says. When not working he loves to travel with Shaffer to London and Rome and enjoys “shopping funky, junky shops in Palm Springs or Orange.”
Though they’re busy with their day jobs, Dias and Cornwell and friend Brent Zimmerman recently started the design company Design Alchemy so they can share their talents with others who are taking on a new design project. “Since we work on so many different types of sets, we don’t feel boxed in by any particular design genre,” says Cornwell, who trained and holds a degree as an industrial designer. “I strive for an eclectic mix,” he says, “because if it’s all in one direction it can be a little boring.”
photographs by ulrica wihlborg