Inside a Creative Couple's Bright SoCal House

Updated 04/19/17

When an empty-nesting couple relocated from downtown San Francisco to West Los Angeles for work, they relished the wide-open space of their new house. Turns out that even in a Malibu-adjacent neighborhood, real estate in Southern California gets you more square footage. Having left most of their furniture in their former home, the couple had just one issue: filling up a four-bedroom, 5000-square-feet house from scratch. With them, they had only brought a few treasured pieces: midcentury collectibles and a colorful art collection.

The couple, who wasn't interested in run-of-the-mill décor, reached out to interior designer Amy Elbaum, who had also recently relocated to L.A. from New York City. With her experience designing Manhattan homes, she would have the right expertise to give this couple's home a vibrant city feel. By mixing the couple's existing midcentury collection and artwork with bold new pieces, the designer was able to create a welcoming home with a curated gallery feel. Step inside and find out why it sometimes pays off to take risks when it comes to décor.

Los Angeles mid century home side table and round mirror
Amy Bartlam ; DESIGN: AE Design

The couple, who had relocated from San Fransisco, was looking to retain a city feel in their new SoCal home. "The homeowners reached out to me as they were new to the L.A. area and looking for someone who could give their suburban home a bit of a city vibe," explains Elbaum. "Because I was also new to L.A. and most of the work in my portfolio consisted of projects in New York City, it was a perfect fit from the beginning."

In the entryway, she left the space bright and airy, adding just a few pops of color for added interest: "The entry, which flows into the formal living room, was meant to feel open, airy and uncluttered. We selected key pieces of unique furniture to define the room and an eclectic mix of art, objects, and photography to give the space a gallery-like feel. We left the entry and living room bright and airy, allowing the openness of the space to welcome people into the house."

Jenifer Janniere C2 Console
Jenifer Janniere C2 Console $upon request
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Jenifer Janniere C2 Console (price upon request)

living room with white sofa and mirrored coffee table
Amy Bartlam ; DESIGN: AE Design

While the couple was largely starting over from scratch, they were moving in with select pieces that needed to be incorporated into the design. "They approached me with an empty house that they were looking to fill with pops of color and unique pieces while still maintaining the 'gallery feel' of the existing space," says Elbaum. "They were collectors of midcentury modern furniture, most of which they had sold with their last city home, but the few pieces they kept we aimed to incorporate into a more contemporary design to give them a fresh look."

The designer incorporated these pieces with a fresh mix of new pieces that would compliment the mix of colors and styles the owners wanted: "We had some really great upholstered pieces made for this house including the white sofa in the living room with its spectacular curved back."

Shine by S.H.O. Sandrine Sofa
Shine by S.H.O. Sandrine Sofa $price upon request
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Shine by S.H.O. Sandrine Sofa (price upon request)

dining room seen through archway
Amy Bartlam ; DESIGN: AE Design

"This space was a total blank slate with all white walls, high ceilings, and plenty of natural light, which provided us with endless design opportunity," says Elbaum. "Our functional goals were to provide ample seating areas in the multiple living spaces as well as creating a casual dining area in the kitchen and a separate, more formal one in the dining room. Aesthetically, while we wanted to bring a cosmopolitan vibe to the house, keeping the natural Southern California light was also very important."

One of the most challenging rooms was the dining room: "It was an awkward and small shape with slanted ceilings, so we covered it in a fun gold malachite wallpaper from Cole & Son to distract from the odd lines in the room and added a linear chandelier to guide the eye to the center of the room."

Apparatus Studio Arrow Chandelier
Apparatus Studio Arrow Chandelier $3450
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bright white kitchen
Amy Bartlam ; DESIGN: AE Design

Since the kitchen was fairly new, the designer only tackled a few (but essential) cosmetic changes: "In the kitchen, we tacked a table onto the end of the island to create a longer seating area and replaced the two existing chandeliers over the kitchen island with three fixtures that extended over the table as well."

The kitchen is the hub of the home, opening up to a small family room, so the space needed to serve multiple purposes: "We created a secondary dining area with a small kitchen table that extends off the island. My favorite thing about this space is that we were fearless in our color choices and didn't shy away from atypical combinations of design elements. As a designer, it is truly special to have a client that trusts you enough to take things in a direction that strays from the norm. In particular, one of my favorite details of the space is how we added hot-pink color-blocked pillows to the coral swivel chairs in the family room—it was a risk that paid off and contributed greatly to the overall design of the space."

Roll and Hill Modo Pendant Light
Roll and Hill Modo Pendant Light $1750
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reading nook
Amy Bartlam ; DESIGN: AE Design

"The biggest challenge of this project was filling a large empty house without it feeling forced or overfurnished," explains Elbaum. "There are only two people living in this house most of the time, so we tried to maintain a balance between finding the right pieces and finishes to define the space while still drawing attention to the simplicity of the house. I think we did a great job creating a warm and inviting home while still embracing some of the negative spaces."

Rove Concepts Flag Halyard Chair
Rove Concepts Flag Halyard Chair $2070
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home office
Amy Bartlam ; DESIGN: AE Design

"The office is directly off the master bedroom and needed to have plenty of function and storage," says the designer. "We added a lacquer and stained oak custom built-in unit with open shelving, cabinets, and drawers, as well as a usable workspace. The freestanding desk added another work surface for times when the desktop computer was not being used. The lounge chair in the corner provided another place to rest or even curl up with a book."

Katavolos Original Vintage
Katavolos Original Vintage "T" Chair $2950
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sitting area with red couch
Amy Bartlam ; DESIGN: AE Design

"The master bedroom was an enormous and somewhat overwhelming space for the homeowners," explains Elbaum. "We painted the walls a dark color to create a more intimate and inviting space. We divided up the large overall room by creating a separate seating area in front of the bed which provided an additional place for the homeowners to relax in their master suite. We also replaced the existing carpet in the master bedroom to match the wide plank oak flooring that carried through the rest of the house. The chandelier is also such an interesting piece that you don't typically see in a bedroom—each lighting fixture we chose for this house is special and ties the rooms together."

Studio Van den Akker Abbott Ten Light Chandelier
Studio Van den Akker Abbott Ten Light Chandelier $price upon request
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Studio Van den Akker Abbott Ten Light Chandelier (price upon request)

bathroom with large chandelier over freestanding tub
Amy Bartlam ; DESIGN: AE Design

"The master bathroom had a very zen vibe, and we added a few pieces to keep with that feeling," says the designer. "The extremely soft and luxurious silk rug warmed up the space, as well as providing something nice to put your feet on after enjoying some time in that beautiful tub. The large-scale light fixture added some drama while still allowing the natural light to pass through from outdoors." To warm up the space, the designer added rugs, lighting, and small pieces of furniture to keep it cohesive with the rest of the house.

Arteriors Charlotte Chandelier
Arteriors Charlotte Chandelier $6360
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