Designing Courteney

[from Harper’s Bazaar, 6/99]

Renovating and reselling houses has been the passion in Courteney Cox's life. But now the "Friends" costar may have adventure enough trying to incorporate the eclectic tastes of fiance David Arquette. James Servin takes an exclusive peek into the couple's L.A. home.

Call her a designaholic: While some people collect stamps or climb mountains in their spare time, Courtney Cox keeps busy by decorating and selling houses. "What happens to me is I get bored," Cox says, sitting in her current dwelling, a single-level, Bermuda-style home in Brentwood, CA. Over the past 11 years, the actress, who turned 35 [in June], has bought five houses, overhauled each in a different style, then turned around and sold all but one for a profit. (In that instance, Cox broke even.) After four years in this home, she was getting ready to move yet again, but [husband], actor David Arquette, convinced [her] that it was time to stop the insanity.

"Homes are really important to me," says Cox. "But when you're engaged to someone, you can't just pick up and go." Ever since the 27-year old Arquette moved in with her nearly a year ago, Cox has been on a crusade to reflect Arquette's more vibrant, retro taste, filling her formerly whit-walled sanctuary with brightly colored furniture. There is a smell of fresh paint in the air. That's because Cox recently had the interior painted--and repainted. "I like color to be really saturated," she says, "For example, that color I cannot stand."

We're sitting in a dark-blue den. The offending color, a minty green, twinkles out at us from the entryway. Soon, it will be banished in favor of putty brown. "Color means a lot to me," Cox says. "I know what I'm looking for; I just don't know how to get there, so I keep changing it." She smiles. "David has issued a command: 'No more painting.'"

As she talks, her blue eyes lock you in their force field. Their power is palpable, and in some ways tell the story of her life. Certainly, they triggered the desired response from Bruce Springsteen in his 1984 "Dancing in the Dark" video, in which Cox played the fan who gets pulled up on stage to boogie with the Boss. Her portrait of an ordinary wide-eyed girl picked out of the crowd was a fleeting yet memorable moment in pop culture, and a turning point for Cox. At the time, the Birmingham, AL, native was enrolled in architecture courses in Washington, D.C., and was working in New York over the summer. She got signed by the Ford modeling agency and then auditioned for Brian De Palma, who directed the video.

"I remember when it premiere on MTV," she recalls. "My mom and I were on the phone, watching it together. For some reason, that video makes me embarrassed. I was such a tomboy, and there's nothing special about the way I danced." Others didn't share her view, and the ensuing exposure gave Cox's career a jump start. Soon she was playing Michael J. Fox's girlfriend on Family Ties, and later the sidekick to Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. In 1994 she became one of the Friends, and then distinguished herself as the first of the troupe to segue into a successful film career, starring in the megahit teen horror flicks Scream (1996) and Scream 2 (1997).

Cox and Arquette got to know each other on the set of Scream. As a cinematic couple, they were an unlikely match. He played the local cop, she the brazen, flashily dressed television-news reporter. The scene in which the two of them tumble headlong into a ditch and then kiss was the biggest shock of the film that didn't involve fake blood. Was it their first kiss as a couple? "No," Cox says, "it wasn't." They'd actually met a few weeks before Scream started shooting, but didn't formally commit to one another until Scream 2 wrapped. "We were at a party at Wes Craven's house, and I found myself being very sarcastic with him," she remembers. "Very 'I've got your number, buddy.' We were definitely in major crush mode during the film. But I had just come out of a long-term relationship, and he was dating more than one person."

The relationship Cox refers to is her five and a half years with actor Michael Keaton. She met him through a mutual friend after admiring his performance in the 1988 film Clean and Sober, in which the famously nice actor played a recovering drug addict with a tortured, frenzied psyche. What was it about that performance that appealed to Cox? "I'm not afraid of that side of any man," she says. "My brother and my father are extremely manic, and I'm manic. That's what I call 'having a lot of energy.'"

Keaton and Cox never lived together, and he never got too involved in her house-buying schemes. Times have changed. "Do you want to see what David brought when he first moved in?" she asks. We go to the main living room to see an art deco table with a gigantic sculpture of a black heel underneath. The introduction of the stiletto in the home was a pivotal moment for Cox. "My first thought was, Wow, this is going to be tough," she says. "Antonia Huff, one of my interior designers, said"--she mimics a British accent--"'Oh, the heel is marvelous' and put it there."

The living room and the kitchen are big, open areas; the all-silver master bedroom and two '60s-style guest bedrooms are cozier spaces. Cox has embraced some of Arquette's eccentric purchases (a kitchen shelf holds an assortment of 50 clowns). Other items await final judgment. Recently, Arquette and Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman) returned from an auction with the entire Alice in Wonderland display from a dismantled Santa's Village theme park; Cox has placed the four-foot-tall figures off to the side of a back porch. But she ultimately rejected Arquette's attempt to garnish the outdoor electrical outlets with purple ceramic mushrooms. "At first I thought they were really cute," she says. "Then I finally said, 'Let's just have a green lawn and not purple-polka-dotted mushrooms out there.'"

With the new interior comes a new style of dressing. Cox says that the pink Todd Oldham sweater and brown leather Edge pants she's wearing today have been influenced by Arquette and the decor. "When I lived in the French country-style house, I never wore pink, or any color for that matter. You'd probably find me in khakis and a crisp white shirt," she says. "Since putting color on my walls, I've definitely put color into my wardrobe." Later, she shows me her walk-in closet: "Color," she says, triumphantly holding up a garment bag. She points to a fuzzy pink DKNY sweater. "Color!" (Arquette's wardrobe, meanwhile, contains glittering clothes, a raccoon hat and various spiky dog collars that he wears regularly.)

Cox's relentless attention to details keeps things interesting at home, but when she directs that same level of scrutiny to her body, she gets criticized. As with Calista Flockhart, anorexia rumors have swirled around Cox to the point that People magazine once wrote a story pointing accusingly at her slender frame. She told a reporter, "When I saw that article, I literally got down on my knees and cried." Today, she seems game to address the topic. "You know what? My mom thinks I'm too thin. She'll send me a picture of myself and say, 'Before you do another photo shoot, put on some weight.' The thing is, I have a small face, but I am by no means too thin. I really wish I was disciplined enough to exercise more. It's what I plan to do after I finish the house."

If she lacks discipline at the gym, in other areas of her life Cox possesses the rigor of a drill sergeant. Each change of her interior aesthetic--from modern Italian to Gothic to American country to French country--has required a furniture overhaul. Recently a neighbor who liked her old decor, the Indonesian look, helped Cox clean house. "I said, 'Come on over and buy what you want.' The first thing she tagged was the dining-room table. I thought, Whoa, I didn't have any intention of getting rid of that. But I guess it was time to unload. I sold everything."

Cox looks over my shoulder. The gleam in her eye says that she's had a sudden revelation about the living room. "I think I need to paint over that blue," she says. "What do you think? Do you think it's a little powdery? Can I leave the ceiling this plum color, or do you think I need to change it?"

At this moment her [husband] walks in the door. "Hey Davy!" she says, kissing him once and then again. Wearing a fuzzy white Kangol cap, khakis and a black-and-white shirt, Arquette looks in person more like his hunky hustler character in the 1996 film Johns and less like the ultramanic guy he plays on those AT&T commercials. "When I first met Courteney," he says, "her tastes were a little more conservative, more adult. But now she's having fun with color, really running with it a lot further than I thought she would." If he has become accustomed to her home-improvement habit, she has helped him shed the more unhealthy behavior of his hard-partying past. "We have an understanding that we live a drug-free life," says Cox. "It's what both of us want."

"I've mellowed out," Arquette says, "and Courteney's having more fun. I'm having more fun too, in a healthier, safer, sweeter way."

They've got a lot of togetherness coming up. This spring they'll begin shooting The Shrink Is In, a romantic comedy that Cox is producing, and then work on Scream 3. Next, Cox will be seen as a male alien trapped in a human female's body in the film Alien Love Triangle opposite Kenneth Branagh and Heather Graham. Then there's their wedding and plans to have children in the near future.

"Before he moved in, David would say, 'How are we ever going to meld together, because our tastes are so different?'" says Cox. "Maybe it's because we're truly in love that we can." She then offers a more pragmatic explanation: "I've always changed my tastes, and now we've both changed. It was time anyway."

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