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Profile of:“Create your own original, happens to be my business motto.”
By John L. Seitz – Courier Managing Editor
“I love Beverly Hills and the lifestyle with its ‘small town’ feeling. You can walk down just about any street in The City, see friendly faces, and I know I’m at home. It’s great living here.”
Those words sum up the mantra of Marilyn Weiss, one of The City’s more esteemed independent designers and member of the prestigious American Society of Interior Designers, who this year is celebrating her 25th anniversary in the business.
Though her family only took up residence in Beverly Hills a decade ago, she has long since become a prominent member of the community by serving on the executive board of the El Rodeo School’s PTA, and on the board of Temple Emanuel and founder of its Emanuel Arts Center.
However, she takes particular pride in her six year term on the BH Architectural Commission (being chairperson in 2000 to 2001). This oversees new construction or extensive remodeling on multifamily and commercial developments in The City. The Prada, Louis Vuitton and Chanel stores on Rodeo Dr. are just a few those projects she influenced during her tenure.
Weiss also took an active role on the R-1 subcommittee of The City’s Planning Commission (along with Kathy Reims, Hamid Gabbay, Stacey Marks, and Arnie Sklar) that developed the new design review ordinance primarily done to fight the “mansionization” of this 5.69-square-mile luxury metropolis.
As she points out: “There had already been a plethora of reconstructions in the area where homes existed on relatively small lots, mostly in the southern part of The City. Their commonality were flat rooflines, huge windows and two-story entryways. Most offered little in the way of landscaping, except for a phalanx of towering columns out front or the luxury cars and SUVs parked on a pad of cement where the front lawn used to be.
“As homes seemed to be ‘growing’ right up to the setbacks, there developed more concern as to the long lasting effect of this kind of development. Often times a single story classic Spanish would be torn down, only to be replaced by a towering box which invaded the neighbor’s privacy.
“Then instead of this just being an occasional problem, it began to be repeated over and over again with the character of some streets being changed forever. The same individuals seemed to have developed a bit of ‘formula’ to move one design from property to property, and the rest is history.
“As the problem escalated, the city council requested studies regarding the best way to control the growing size and the seeming disregard for the garden quality and fine architectural balance in The City’s residential neighborhoods.
The council appointed that R-I subcommittee to study the problem, and it was shortly thereafter other civic entities got involved. It appeared there was an urgency to enact new concepts for building single family homes in Beverly Hills, so an ordinance was passed by the council to require many homes to be reviewed by the planning commission while additional studies on other ways to control development were being honed.
All of this resulted in the recent establishment of the BH Design Review Commission for single unit residential matters set up at the behest of the council and to which Weiss was appointed. This panel keeps track of those doing extensive remodeling or new construction.
Weiss explained: “We now offer a beautiful color style catalogue to encourage pure design. And what I mean by that is if one wishes to build a Monterey Colonial, the elements which make up such a design are clearly shown. This encourages many different styles of architecture, but allows each one of them to be true to itself.
“I’m certainly all for anybody’s right to build a house to their personal tastes but the main task of our commission is to be concerned about the architectural integrity of our residential areas. The challenge is to maintain a balance betweeen the beauty established by our founding architects and the desire to maintain a world-class entertainment and shopping destination.”
Weiss declared: “Beverly Hills is one of the last cities to impose design regulations and it is our hope we can find a way to all enjoy our neighborhoods and respect our neighbors on issues of scale, mass and bulk.”
This native Texan was born in Dallas but has been a full-fledged Californian since age two as one of four children. The family settled in the San Fernando Valley and her father bought a small retail beverage store which her mother helped him run.
“I had to grow up very fast because I was suddenly in charge of the cooking and taking care of myself and three siblings from the age of 12 on up,” Weiss stated. “We had downsized from a home in Sherman Oaks to an apartment in order to buy the business and everyone had to do his or her part.”
Five years later, her father died of a massive heart attack and the retail business was sold. She then earned a degree from Pierce College and moved on to UCLA. As things would have it, she met the love of her life and married Mark Weiss. They have been together 37 years and started off living in San Francisco while the latter was in medical school. (He is a noted foot and ankle surgeon in the Century City Medical Plaza, on the staff of Century City Hospital since 1980, and on the executive committee of the new Century City Doctors Hospital opening this spring.)
After four years in the Bay Area, the Weisses returned to the Southland to raise their family which now consisted of two children, Scott and Allison. Arriving unexpectedly many years later on were triplets, Sara, Elizabeth and Ryan, all of whom became graduates of El Rodeo School and Beverly Hills High School, and are now sophomores studying music and the arts at three diverse colleges in the nation – University of Cincinnati, UC Irvine and the University of Miami.
Daughter Allison is director of youth at Valley Beth Shalom while her husband, David Bluestein, is a sergeant in the LAPD.
Eldest son, Scott, is a rabbi living in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Natalie, director of development at Lakeshore Foundation, and their two sons, Abraham and Samuel.
“Abraham was born with Spina Bifada and is paralyzed from the waist down,” said Weiss. “He’s an amazing child and just returned from the National Abilities Center in Park City, Utah, where he experienced his first attempt at skiing.”
Meanwhile, once her older children had begun school and her husband started his medical practice, Weiss had furthered her own education first at El Camino College and then took interior design classes at UCLA. She joined the Westwood-based Kellard-Baron design team of Mountaingate fame before going out on her own four years later.
“It doesn’t seem possible I’ve been doing this for a quarter century. When you have five children to raise, the important thing about being an independent designer for me was getting to set my own hours so I did a lot of medical and law offices in addition to private homes.
“However, now my clients realize if they hire me, they’re going to get 100% of my attention for I so value what I can do for them and their dreams. Sure, sometimes you have to play part-psychologist, part-referee since the spouses are occasionally at odds with one another, be a good listener and, above all, have a thick skin. You always have to put yourself in the place of your client and realize everyone has stress in their life to overcome, plus they are often coming from changing perspectives.”
Weiss continued: “My grand ambition is to be the first designer who comes to mind when somebody in The City wants to fix up their place or buys a new home. When I go to a potential client’s house the first time, I attempt to ascertain what are their favorite pieces and reinvent them and their uses. By this I mean the ‘family treasures’ they just love and are emotionally attached to, and then work from there.
“Knowing full well it’s their home and they have to live there in a happy frame of mind, I always work to ‘create your own original’, which also happens to be my business motto. To do this, the designs have to be ageless, timeless and capture their passions.”
Her work is frequently on display at Lladro on Rodeo Dr. where she often creates vignettes or showcase windows for that porcelain figurine center to show the art objects in real living situations.
She has donated her services the past three years for the Beverly Hills Flower and Garden Festival at Greystone mansion where she completely redesigned the Doheny family’s breakfast room, ladies lounge, and entry foyer
“Each designer is annually given a single room to outfit. It’s so exciting to see that magnificent treasure come alive during the festival with fresh décor from top to bottom
She did a similar refreshing on the living room of the late Virginia Robinson’s historic mansion for the annual Friends of Robinson Gardens benefit tour and tea.
On one currently red-hot subject, Weiss is particularly outspoken about—Measure A regarding the Montage Hotel and public gardens project.
“I believe this project will be a wonderful asset for The City and its residents.”
In the design area, in raising a family, in having a long and happy marriage, and in contributing her talents to her adopted home town, Marilyn Weiss is unafraid to coherently voice her opinion. Who would have it any other way!
Marilyn Weiss can be reached at 310-277-7905 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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