Descanso Gardens’ flora and fauna inspired this year’s Showcase House of Design

When you’re redecorating a historic house in one of the finest public gardens in Los Angeles County, you’re surrounded by pure inspiration. And the 15 participants in the 2019 Pasadena Showcase House of Design, who overhauled the interior of Descanso Gardens’ Boddy House, found just that, harnessing splendid floral and fauna elements in their designs.
Designed by James E. Dolena in the Hollywood Regency style, the 12,000-square-foot Boddy House was built for the late publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News, E. Manchester Boddy, as a home for himself, his wife, Berenice, and their two sons. Boddy purchased the land that is now Descanso Gardens in 1937 and called it Rancho del Descanso — Ranch of Rest. This is the second time Showcase House of the Arts, which organizes the annual arts fundraiser, has made over the Boddy House; it debuted in 2007 as the 43rd Pasadena Showcase House of Design.
The sprawling botanical gardens in La Caňada Flintridge are particularly known for the Camellia Forest, so Boddy House is peppered with decorative objects evoking camellias. Descanso has the largest camellia collection in North America, designated an International Camellia Garden of Excellence by the International Camellia Society. Boddy had planted thousands of the Asian flowering plants in the 1930s, to supply the cut-flower industry. Camellias also bloom in the Japanese Garden, which opened in 1966, long after Boddy sold the estate to L.A. County in 1953.

The Living Room
Louise O’Malley’s design for the living room uses dark greens and reds to bring out the colors of the delicate Japanese maple leaves visible from the window beside the piano. For the walls, the Burbank-based designer used a slightly lighter version of Dunn-Edwards Paints’ 2019 Color of the Year: “Spice of Life,” a dark brownish, fire-brick red with orange undertones.
Chinese designs on the curtains give a nod to the gardens’ East Asian influences, as does O’Malley’s custom pagoda pet house, a charming tented pouf beneath a tiny chandelier — for your spoiled cat, small dog or rabbit. There’s also a large chandelier for humans with a clear sphere that magically captures an upside-down image of the room.
O’Malley juxtaposes a pair of brilliant white porcelain phoenixes against a wooden screen to brighten a dark corner and draw attention to a nearby set of six antique wooden chairs reupholstered in leopard-patterned fabric, with hand-carved leopard “feet.”
The bird motif repeats on the back stairway designed by Studio Akiko of Arcadia, where hand-painted cranes fly up the walls. Framed Chinoiserie wallpaper on the upstairs landing, designed by Studio City–based Leila Bick, features well-known feral fowls of Pasadena. And on the outdoor “poet’s porch,” decorative artist Shari Tipich of San Pedro will present real caged birds as nature’s muses.

SoCal gardens bloom year-round because of the abundant sunshine, and designer Tracy Murdock of Beverly Hills celebrates all those sunny days by dressing the solarium in Asian motifs expressed in a palette of whites and Delft blues. Entering from the family salon, you pass through a hallway boasting a glimpse of classic Hollywood style — a lovely photograph of the Roman Holiday princess, Audrey Hepburn, amid clouds of pink flowers. In an installation by Murdock designer Dannielle Gross, antique and contemporary blue-on-white Chinese ceramics adorn the wall, both inside and spilling out of an ornate gold frame, as if making their escape. The work took four weeks to install.
Inside the solarium, small ceramic pagodas house bursts of blooms. The geometric blue-and-white wallpaper by Scalamandre offers a modern take on the Chinese ceramic patterns, and the cut-velvet upholstery used for the circular conversation seat celebrates SoCal’s blue skies while echoing the Chinese ceramic blues.

Morning Room
Carbonshack specializes in sustainable design that reduces clients’ carbon footprints, and the Cypress Park firm’s inspiration for the morning room is both intellectual and instinctive. Carbonshack found fresh designs in magnified images of spores, mycelia (root systems that form a network) and other occupants of the gardens’ hidden world, reflected in hemp fabrics and the overhead light fixture modeled on a diatom, a single-celled alga that produces 20 percent of the planet’s oxygen. The sustainably produced cork-tile floor mimics leaf cell structures, evoking a forest floor; according to designer Gregory Roth, the material has more give than typical hard materials, making it kinder on the joints. Cork flooring also recalls a past era when this sustainable resource was more popular (1930s and again in the 1950s). The table is recycled wood from a church pew, perhaps from a tree that was felled over 100 years ago. Amanda Triplett’s wall art uses reclaimed textiles to portray an organic cellular structure.
Yet life and living are about motion. Instead of still photography that captures a moment, eight art videos by Rachel Mayeri, a professor of media studies at Harvey Mudd College, use time-lapse photography and digital design for colorful depictions of plants blooming. The effect is mesmerizing and emphasizes rejuvenation or rebirth on an organic level. What better way to start a morning?

The 55th Pasadena Showcase House of Design, benefiting music education, performances and therapy, runs through May 19. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday and Sunday; Friday hours are 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Parking and shuttle-bus service is at 1919 Verdugo Blvd., La Cañada Flintridge. Tickets cost $35 to $45 online or by phone, $40 to $50 at the ticket office. Call (714) 442-3872 or visit