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The Art of Imperfection

An 1889 Victorian on Ojai’s East End gets an eclectic update.

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Photo by Gaszton Gal

Oil and mixed media paintings by owner/artist Kelly Luscombe Bea hang on an original 19th-century hand-hewn beadboard wall.

There’s a warmth that emanates from Kelly Luscombe Bea’s home, and it’s not just from Ojai’s summer swelter. She greets me on the porch with a smile and a hug as she ushers me into her 1889 Victorian. From the get-go there’s a sense of welcome. The front room, a dark and intimate space, is rich with wood paneling and an enormous stone fireplace—both original to the house and testament to its late-19th-century heritage. But instead of the ceramics, clockworks, and portraits indicative of the era, colorful paintings, quirky sculptures, and saris are artfully sprinkled throughout, adding a palpable sense of levity. This mix of vintage charm and modern art is very much a manifestation of the homeowner. “I don’t want to focus on perfection,” Luscombe Bea tells me over cups of tea with ginger. “I just want to bring the magic in.”

That magic comes from many places. Her mother (Suzanne von Drachenfels, author of the etiquette classic The Art of the Table) recently downsized, leaving Luscombe Bea with a treasure trove of furnishings, china, and other collectibles. Several black-and-white photographs taken by her father, who studied with Ansel Adams, are displayed on the wall. Mementos from her travels to India and Spain are in evidence along with the art of several friends, many of whom have shown at her Meiners Oaks space, Gallery 525. Her own artwork is prominently featured as well, including metal sculptures, mosaics, surreal paintings, and small tableaux hidden behind dollhouse shutters that she calls “window poems.” Colorful renderings of Christian saints and Hindu deities are a recurring motif. “I practice Bhakti yoga, or ‘yoga of the heart,’” Luscombe Bea explains. “But I’m also inspired by the lives of saints.”

As a student in San Francisco, she initially studied both art and interior design. “I thought I had to be practical, so I went into interior design,” Luscombe Bea says. “But what I really wanted was to be an artist.” Decorating paid the bills while she continued to pursue her passion, and she eventually made a living as an artist and teacher, opening up a successful gallery in 1997. She moved to Ojai in 2001 to get away from the fog, and fell in love with the four-bedroom, two-bath fixer-upper on the East End. “It was pretty run-down,” she admits. Old carpet was everywhere, layers of vinyl covered the kitchen floor, and there was rotting plaster on the walls. But it also boasted a large lot with a cool shed, guesthouse, saltwater swimming pool, an avocado orchard, and a spectacular view of the Topa Topa Mountains to the west. Original hardware, wainscoting, and stonework added to its allure.

When she moved in, she knew she could handle any necessary remodels, but she made a conscious decision not to make it a faithful Victorian-era reconstruction. “I did a major remodel once on a Victorian in San Francisco,” Luscombe Bea recalls. “Perfection was the goal—and it was draining. Instead, I decided to make this house my own.” Carpet was torn out and the hardwood floors were refinished. Lavender, mint green, and butter yellow went up on the walls, and the built-in glass cupboards were filled with a merry mishmash of teacups, glassware, and random objets d’art. Touches of whimsy are everywhere, like the painted metal bikini out by the pool and a white feather wreath that bedecks her boudoir. Interior design may not have been Luscombe Bea’s true calling, but you can’t deny her eye: while chaos has a certain hold on every room, there’s also a sense of composition.

Luscombe Bea doesn’t just have art everywhere; the tools to create art are everywhere, too. Her bright blue porch (“Blue has become almost a neutral for me,” she says) features tables for sketching and a printing press. Near the pool is an outdoor studio space. “You can paint and then jump in the pool and come right back!” she exclaims with a laugh, What would have been the pool house in a more conventional setting has become a colorful artists’ shed, perfect for washing out paintbrushes. The peaceful, creativity-sparking nature of this studio en plain air has earned it the moniker Ananda Verandah (ananda is a Buddhist term for bliss), and it’s been a big draw for the workshops Luscombe Bea frequently offers: yoga retreats, art camps, exhibitions. Music performances are held in a large stage she constructed herself, complete with studio lighting. A musician as well as an artist, Luscombe Bea plays guitar and harmonium, and has been exploring classical Indian singing and kirtan. Friends frequently gather poolside, on comfy couches with a perfect view of the stage, for performances and jam sessions. “We play outside at night, and it’s totally divine,” she says. “This is my little paradise.” Thanks to an inventive use of space, guest accommodations are many and varied. The cold shed she converted to a one-bedroom studio with a loft, and tea houses furnished with beds, mosquito netting, and hammocks are cunningly hidden among the avocado and walnut groves.

Students who come to the Ananda Verandah find themselves attempting to attain a certain freedom in their work, not “boxed in,” as Luscombe Bea says, by objects or a sense of order. It’s a struggle she tries to overcome in her own work. “I like to paint people and objects that have meaning; I like a little realism to pull me in,” she explains, gesturing to the dresses, dress forms, shoes, and hands that frequently show up as metaphors in her art. “But the objects are just the surface level. They pull you into something deeper. There’s a certain freedom when you’re painting that touches on the ecstatic. I want to help people unlock that creative part of themselves—it’s like unlocking the secrets of the universe.”

Ananda Verandah’s many splendors inspire the imagination to take flight, but it’s Luscombe Bea’s affable nature and gracious spirit that sets the heart at ease, making more profound connections possible. “I feel that in my home I’m entertaining in a more modern way, and entertaining with art. It’s a different way of being hospitable.”

Learn more about Kelly Luscombe Bea, the Ananda Verandah and Gallery 525 at kellyluscombebea.com.

A bookshelf brims with family photos, vintage boxes, coral sculptures, and various other objets d’art.


An artist’s playground in 2014, with finished works, in-progress paintings, track spot lighting, and a computer-topped desk in the corner.


Works by local artists Dianne Bennett and Carmen Abelleira mix with those of the homeowner.


A window-paned Dutch door opens to the kitchen.


An outdoor stage overlooking a saltwater swimming pool is the site of myriad art and music events held at Ananda Verandah.


A teahouse in the avocado orchard. Kelly Luscombe Bea, seen here, made the circular mosaic step and hanging tin dress that greet visitors to this unique campsite.


Paint and collage transformed an antique farmhouse chair into a rustic work of art.


09-01-2014

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