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A couple longing to live in Hawaii instead created a sense of the tropics in their own Southern California dining room.

You live in Southern California, but yearn for a home in Hawaii. Or perhaps you fancy a tranquil bedroom retreat or a kitchen that evoke memories of your childhood. For interior designer Bill McWhorter, any of these dreams is within reach, simply by embracing its colors. "Color is a wonderful thing, it changes people's lives," he says. "It can stimulate and it can calm. That's why I use color of every type and every hue."

Renowned for his imaginative combinations of tints and textures, McWhorter relishes the excitement of creating designs that use color to reflect a client's personality-whether it's a lavender palette for romance, gold for drama or persimmon to convey a sense of the exotic.

Brighter hues and more exciting textures are replacing conventional neutrals.
Brighter hues and more exciting textures are replacing conventional neutrals. (Mary E. Nichols)
Each room is designed as a unified whole, with each element complementing the others and no detail left to chance.

The founder of McWhorter Design recalls redecorating a home for clients who wanted to live in Hawaii but were tied to the Golden State by work and family commitments. He brought the tropics to them, with walls painted the exact reddish-orange of the Big Island's popular ohia lehua blossom and area rugs and furniture cushions adorned with hibiscus and lilies. Bamboo reeds frame the dining room chairs and also the fireplace surround in the living room. Neutral matting adds textured interest to the ceiling and the golden hue of the crown molding hints at a sun-kissed dawn.

"He looks for inspiration from anywhere-from historical reference to something in a garden," says Brad Haan, an industry partner with the American Society of Interior Designers' Los Angeles chapter, of which McWhorter is a former president. "He is so tuned in to the personality of his clients. For some people, red makes them angry. For other people, red takes them to an exotic location. Because of his personality, Bill really bonds with his clients and understands what they want. He gives a client the courage to project a color into their own as their own choice."

Designers also see brighter hues and more exciting textures replacing conventional neutrals in other style elements. Tiles of translucent glass, exotic stone and even a variety of metals are being incorporated into flooring, backsplashes, countertops and fireplaces. Many homeowners are enhancing the elegance of a space by tiling an entire wall in complementary colors or using different textures to create a mosaic. "We've started to talk to people about how tile is an artwork," said Steve Slutzah, owner of Westside Tile & Stone in Canoga Park. "Today, people want to make a statement."

Despite the renewed emphasis on color, McWhorter concedes that some clients may find it difficult to break out of their conventional comfort zone-one that's painted white. His 30 years as a designer has taught him that a peek inside their closet will help him determine what hues they might b embrace. Yet, if they're still insistent on a pale palette, the self-described "Johnny Depp of designers" has the versatility to adapt. "I've done all white rooms that look attractive because of texture," he says. "But I would say, don't be afraid of color. Paint is the easiest thing to change."

McWhorter Design
5042 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

Westside Tile & Stone Inc.
7631 Canoga Ave., Canoga Park