The Los Altos Hills neighborhood known as Pink Horse Ranch is known for its quiet streets and low-slung, spacious ranch houses, most of which were designed and built by a self-taught architect, Wendell Roscoe.
Roscoe, formerly an airline pilot, had the foresight to buy 42 acres of this rolling land in 1955. Gradually, he began to develop the site, scattering mostly low-slung houses on lots of an acre or more. It was a successful formula, and the neighborhood is inevitably described as "highly desirable" in real estate ads.
There are exceptions to the prevailing ranch house aesthetic, however, and one of them is the colonial-style house that Kurt and Kim Wheeler, newly-married and in search of a residence big enough to embrace their newly-blended family of themselves and their four children, bought four years ago. They fell in love with a two-story house with New England-style shutters and stately columns anchoring a wide porte-cochere over the front door.
Although the outside is traditional, the interior has a generously-Californian flow of space. The minute the papers were signed, Kim Wheeler took a look at the dated 1970s décor and vowed that she would transform the place by the time school started four months later. Fortunately, she knew just what she wanted, and as a professional interior designer, just where to look for it.
"I love everything that's French," she says. Not museum-quality, ormolu-encrusted French, but the relaxed feeling of a house in the country where a large family has been adding things for generations and new acquisitions nestle comfortably next to Grandmere's armoires. "You can see that I love most things in French décor - lions, fleur de lys, birds, lambs, monkeys, topiaries, Aubusson rugs and toile de Jouy," By repeating these favorites from room to room, she brought a deeply personal, lived-in unity to the sprawling house.
One of the recurring themes is toile de Jouy, the printed cotton fabrics that were first manufactured in 1760 in a small village near Versailles and have remained popular almost continually ever since.
Classic toile de Jouy comes in thousands of different patterns, from flowers and birds to historical events and the ever-popular pastoral scenes suggestive of Marie Antoinette's playing shepherdess at Le Petit Hameau at Versailles. Kim Wheeler has used a wide variety of patterns on both fabric and wallpaper. In the dining room, she papered the walls with a pattern of rust-colored birds flying on a golden background. In her youngest son's bedrooms, where the theme is dogs, she found a fabric that features hunting dogs. In the master bedroom, a pair of armchairs is covered in red and white pastoral scenes.
She is fearless about mixing patterns to good effect. In the living room, blue and white toile armchairs sit companionably next to chairs covered in floral embroidery. The master bedroom features a comfortable pile of pillows of different sizes, some in a faded floral print, others in checks large and small. She's crazy about leopard patterns, so a little spot of leopard fabric turns up in almost every room, as tiny as a single cushion or as bold as the runner on the spiral staircase in the front hall.
"Find the things you love and use them as much as you want," Kim Wheeler suggests. She emphasizes that everything doesn't have to be precious and costly, particularly in a house full of children. "Most of our accessories come from discount stores so there are no worries if something is bumped or broken by the kids."
"I shopped everywhere," she says, tossing off the names of a couple of her favorite furniture Web sites. She and her business partner, Debbie Wilson Smith, scoured the Bay Area and beyond to find furniture, preferably on sale, for the house. A warehouse sale in Oakland turned up the beautiful inlaid table in a corner of the living room, and a trip to Italy was reason to acquire many of the prints and paintings that line the walls. Her mother - "a saint," as her daughter describes her - made many of the window treatments; others came from catalogs and retail stores, often to be combined and re-configured once she got them home.
The result is a house that's welcoming and comfortable without pretentiousness. But Kim Wheeler confesses that it may not stay the same forever. "I'm fickle. I get easily bored, and I change things quite frequently." There are always thousands more toiles de Jouy and leopard patterns out there to tempt her. The Wheelers home is part of the Christmas at Our House tour, Dec. 4 and 5. For more information, visit www.sfhs.com.