When most people think of Kristin Cavallari, Laguna Beach, California comes to mind. After all, the 35-year-old business owner and New York Times best-selling author rose to fame as a cast member on MTV’s reality television series Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County during her junior year of high school. She later joined MTV’s spinoff The Hills, which followed Cavallari and her castmates’ personal and professional lives in Los Angeles.
Her fans may be surprised to learn, then, that Cavallari settled in Tennessee, a landlocked state 2,000 miles from the sunny shores of Southern California. Though she still dabbles in entertainment, the divorced mother of three prefers the quiet existence that Franklin, Tenn., affords her.
“We are out in the country, where it’s peaceful and calm,” says the Uncommon James founder, who bought a three-story, five-bedroom farmhouse at the start of the pandemic. The 28-acre property features apple trees, blackberry, blueberry and strawberry bushes.
Cavallari loves that her children—Camden, 10, Jaxon, 8, and Saylor, 7—can roam freely on her land and ride their go-kart all around. “I feel very lucky,” she says. “They are outside playing all day; it’s almost like an old-school way of raising kids,” says Cavallari, who shares custody of the children with her ex-husband, former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler. They help her care for dogs Kona and Quinn, as well as the family’s chickens and beehives. They also tend to the vegetable garden, harvesting carrots, zucchini, cherry tomatoes and more.
“To have bees and honey and a chicken coop makes me so happy,” she says. “Plus, teaching your kids life skills like that is neat. For my kids to be able to go out to our coop and get eggs is a really cool way to grow up—and very different than how I grew up,” she says.
Cavallari cannot say for sure how many homes she lived in before this one. She was born in Denver, but moved to Connecticut, then back to Denver, and then to the Chicago suburbs before landing in Laguna Beach her freshman year of high school. After graduating in 2005, she relocated to Los Angeles, and then back to Chicago before coming to Tennessee. In some cases, she lived in more than one home in each city, part of the reason she lost count.
“I am really thankful because this is the first house I’ve ever lived in that is exactly what I wanted aesthetically,” she says. Laughing at her own realization, she adds, “This is the first time I can truly say I really love my house.”
When Cavallari and Cutler separated in April of 2020, she went to see the property and made an offer right after. “I walked in and knew immediately that it was my house,” she says. “It was the energy more than anything,” she says. “It’s like it was calling my name.” She loves that there are tons of windows, but that she still has complete privacy. “Had I waited a month, I never would have gotten it because that’s when everyone started moving out here,” she says. “To this day, I thank my lucky stars that it all worked out. Honestly, it was like everything just aligned for me.”
A few weeks later, Cavallari moved in and began an 18-month renovation. “I did a lot of work,” she recalls. “I completely gutted the kitchen, finished the basement, redid a lot of the bathrooms and added on to my closet,” she explains. Outside, she put in a pool and had a glass greenhouse built. For a six-week period when she was without a kitchen, Cavallari rented a house in a beach community about six hours away. “Other than that, I was living in it,” she says. “It was a process.”
Though the kitchen was airy and open, she felt it was lacking character and needed a complete overhaul to work style-wise with the rest of the house. “That’s where I am most of the time, so I wanted to make it how I wanted it,” says Cavallari, whose third cookbook, Truly Simple: 140 Recipes for Healthy Cooking, comes out next April.
She is clearly happy with the renovation, as evidenced by the book’s cover image: the author standing at her new quartzite island, with the handmade mosaic tile backsplash visible behind her. “There’s no grout, so it’s really rustic-looking,” says Cavallari, who also opted for an unexpected mix of unlacquered brass and ceramic hardware in the kitchen. “I don’t like anything too perfect,” she says.
Cavallari collaborated with Nashville-based designer April Tomlin on the interiors. “I’ve known April for 13 or 14 years, and she’s decorated some of my other houses,” explains Cavallari. “She’s a friend, so she knows my style. I trust her and her taste.” By now, Tomlin is aware that her client is (a) very decisive and (b) all about neutrals. “For me, less is more. I don’t like anything too crazy,” says Cavallari, whose only real guideline for Tomlin was that the house be warm and cozy.
That meant hardwood floors accented by wool rugs, sheer linen curtains that let light in, a mix of neutral paints and subtly patterned papers on the walls, and candles galore. “I always have candles lit because I think they set the mood, especially if you are having people over,” she says.
For the downstairs family room and upstairs playroom, Tomlin sourced large, comfy sectionals and added chunky knit blankets and plenty of pillows. Likewise, she chose kid-friendly, upholstered ottomans free of sharp corners, to serve as coffee tables in both spaces. The family room is located right off the kitchen and serves as the main gathering place. “That’s where everyone congregates,” says Cavallari. “If I am cooking in the kitchen and my kids are in there, it’s like we are in the same room.” The space is also where the foursome watches movies together.
When Cavallari’s children have friends over, they typically head upstairs. “The second level is essentially the kids’ zone,” she explains. “It’s where all three of their bedrooms are, the playroom, an arts and crafts room, and a game room.” The playroom came with built-in bunk beds, which make sleepovers even more fun for Cavallari’s children. “Sometimes it looks like a bomb went off when I go up there,” she says, resigned, “but for the most part, my feeling is: keep the chaos upstairs and everyone’s happy.”
Though she loves throwing parties, and decorating her house for the holidays, Cavallari admits that these days, the extent of her entertaining is letting each of her kids invite a friend over, and then cooking for seven. Not a bad idea, given that she needed recipe testers for her latest cookbook.
“Truly Simple is quick, easy recipes, which is how I cook on a weekly basis when I am running around with my kids,” explains Cavallari, who began regularly preparing meals after Camden was born. “I always knew that I wanted to be the mom who was going to cook dinner every night for her family,” she says, adding that it’s very therapeutic and allows her to zone out. “I am not a chef by any means,” she insists. “I am a mom who loves to cook. If I can make these recipes, anyone can.”
Most nights, Cavallari and her kids eat dinner at the marble-topped table in the dining room. “I came into this house with a set of patio furniture and that dining room set, and that was pretty much it,” she says. She swears by the cozy chairs, which have survived many spills over the past six years, and felt confident they would work just as well in this house. In the hutch, she artfully displays glassware and serving pieces up top, and stores Christmas plates and her favorite Uncommon James home goods down below.
The room is lit by a white plaster chandelier—another holdover from her last home—and of course, candles. Nightly dinners allow her to connect with her kids, whom she says are her favorite people in the world. “I’d rather hang out with them than anyone else, especially where they are right now,” she says. “Their ages are so fun because I can talk to them about real things that are happening in their lives.”
At seventeen, the Laguna Beach High School junior could never have imagined that she would grow up to author four books, appear on a dance competition series, host a podcast with classmate (and then-sweetheart) Stephen Colletti, and launch a jewelry business that would later grow into a lifestyle brand—with its headquarters in Nashville, Tenn. “I was the kid who had no idea what I wanted to do,” says Cavallari. “I didn’t play sports growing up and my academics probably weren’t what they should have been,” she acknowledges. “But I do feel like my career in entertainment has led me to where I am today with Uncommon James. Everything I’ve gone through prepared me for owning my own company, and for that, I am thankful,” she says.
There was a lot of drama on Laguna Beach and The Hills, which no doubt helped Cavallari learn to protect herself and her interests. After seeing an interview with jewelry designer Jennifer Fisher, she made the decision to take Fisher’s advice and maintain 100 percent ownership of Uncommon James. As a result, Cavallari has never taken on a single investor. “I don’t have to answer to anybody,” she says, “and I have complete creative freedom to do whatever I want. That is a dream come true, so why would I give that up?” she asks. “If I have to give someone 20% of my company, then I don’t have as much say anymore.”
Cavallari also took full ownership of her latest cookbook. “I’ve always written the books on my own, but I used a chef to help me with the recipes for the first two,” she explains. “This one is 100% me.” From August of 2021 through February of this year, Cavallari was in her kitchen making food every single day, trying out recipes and scrapping those that didn’t meet her standards. “That was really nice for me,” she says, “because in the years prior I was hustling, and had so much on my plate. To stay home every day in my leggings and cook for months was exactly what I needed.”
Her business acumen also enabled her to grow the Uncommon James brand, which began with just jewelry five years ago. Now, the company generates $30 million in annual revenue and has several brick-and-mortar locations, in addition to e-commerce. That’s because Cavallari has expanded her offerings to include home goods (Uncommon James Home), children’s apparel (Little James), clean skincare (Uncommon Beauty) and accessories. The skincare line is her latest venture. It came to be in May 2021 after Cavallari discovered that a lot of the products people use contain chemicals that age us. “I felt like there was an opportunity to make products that were effective, but actually clean,” she says, “and to scale it down. I don’t think we need 20 products in our skincare routine.”
Cavallari enjoys jumping from one project to the next. “I am super creative, I love a challenge, and I like doing different things,” she says. “In fact, Uncommon James is the first thing I’ve had to sustain for over five years, so that’s been interesting.” Her elegant home office makes this juggling act much easier because she can sit at her desk and write, answer calls, and hop on Zoom when needed, all while admiring the view outside her windows. “I’ve been working from home a lot more, and so I am in my office quite a bit,” she says. “It’s feminine, without being in your face, which I like.”
Opposite her desk is a signed, limited-edition archival pigment print of Kate Moss, by artist Batik. “I actually have a few images of her in my house,” says Cavallari of Moss. “She is a legend in the fashion world, and I love her style.” Cavallari also appreciates how the pinkish tone of the print works in conjunction with the custom side chair covered in a mauve Mokum fabric. “It’s those soft, little details that give the room a feminine feel,” she says.
The pride she takes in her home is palpable, partly because it’s absent of cameras capturing her every move. Her most recent reality series, Very Cavallari, aired for three seasons on E! and wrapped in 2020. “I’m not going back to reality. There’s no way,” she insists. “I have worked in entertainment for so long, and there’s a level of stress that comes with it that’s not conducive to my life right now.” In fact, Cavallari shares that she recently told a friend, “If tomorrow no one knew who I was and that all went away, I would be perfectly okay with that. I really mean it.”
Though she recognizes that she could change her mind down the road, for now she is happy the way things are. “I worked really hard to get to this place and I have finally found a nice work-life balance,” she says. “I’m almost 36, so I know there’s more ahead. I don’t know what it is yet, and I’m okay with that.” While she spends less time in Los Angeles and New York than she used to, Cavallari still takes occasional trips to both coasts to do publicity for her business and books. “To be able to come home to this environment is so nice for me,” she says. “I can’t say enough good things about Tennessee. It’s very grounding for me and I feel so at ease here. This is home as far as I can see into the future.”