IF YOU CAN create The Wizard of Oz on a soundstage, then there really are no rules.” Beneath Frances Merrill’s warm, multicolor­ed originalis­m lie strong crosscurre­nts of old California: a prospector’s spirit with strong shades of 1930s architect Julia Morgan, and indeed, the boundless innovation of Hollywood’s early days of cinema. “Those set designers left a mark, a legacy that anything is possible,” says the Los Angeles–based founder of Reath

Design. “I love taking that imaginativ­e ethos, then adding quality to make it last and feel good to live in.” What she calls “breaking the story”—unlocking the livability challenges of a house—feels like an extension of this experiment­al algorithm, as is her embrace of craft and workmanshi­p. “I love the tactile, human feeling in things that are handmade,” she says. “If someone spent an absurd amount of time making something with their hands, then I am probably going to love it.”

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