How a Set Decorator Turned His MPTF Country House Cottage Into an "'Out of Africa' Retreat"

THR_Stephen_Koehler - h 2015
Wesley Mann

THR_Stephen_Koehler - h 2015

Stephen Koehler — now a resident of beloved industry retirement community the MPTF Country House — has worked with everyone from Lucille Ball to Otto Preminger.

Leave it to a veteran set dresser like Stephen Koehler, 86, who worked with everyone from Lucille Ball ("she was great") to Otto Preminger ("difficult — I mean, that's how he was"), to have designed the resident's cottage that’s the envy of the rest of the MPTF Country House campus. The Hawaii native, who served in the Korean war before working in film (The Cincinnati Kid) and television (Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley) says the wooden floors and large patios he found when he moved in reminded him of the houses back home. "I decided to paint the beams, and gave it some life — I have gingers, gardenias, anthuriums, hibiscus, all the plants I grew up with. I call it my Out of Africa retreat."

He says he was soon helping his former neighbor, writer Anthony Lawrence (Elvis Presley's Paradise, Hawaiian Style; the original Hawaii Five-0), with a similarly thematic balcony scheme. "When I came here I told two ladies about my place, and they came over and they took someone else, and every day these people were coming over and I said, 'I'm going to charge 50 cents form now on!'"