Is there anything dreamier than a house on the beach with the sound of the ocean lapping at your door? We think not. With winter refusing to let go of its icy grip, just the very idea of being coastal is making us feel all warm inside. So, if like us, you're dreaming of summer, too, then take a peek inside this beach house in Point Dume, Malibu, California. The traditional 70s ranch house was a recent flip when Kate Lester's client purchased it in 2015.
The home has five bedrooms and six bathrooms with a pool house, guest cottage, and a 4-car garage with an apartment above so it's safe to say Lester had her work cut out for her. She looked to the southern California Malibu aesthetic for inspiration and landed on bright whites, washed-out blues, and bleached woods as a concept to kick off the design process.
Given the property's ranch-style feel (and the presence of materials such as stone and wood), Lester had to infuse rustic elements into the design without it feeling too forced. "We called this our Malibu Ranch project," she tells MyDomaine. "To balance some of the heavier architectural details, we kept the décor clean, simple, textural, and neutral." Take a peek inside and see how she merged the two worlds to create a stunning beach house with a twist of ranch.
Lester's personal goal was to soften the home a little. "When I first walked in, there were so many gorgeous design elements happening," she explains. "Plastered walls, tumbled stone accents, and reclaimed floors and beams—but it felt a bit too rustic and masculine for our client." So they diffused some of the stronger wood elements and introduced soft white linens, vintage textiles, woven accents, found objects, and oversized art pieces. "I knew instantly that all of these introductions would make the space warmer, softer, and a little more Malibu," she adds.
If you're looking for unconventional ideas to style an entryway, Lester has a few up her sleeve. "Hats are décor," she says. "Never forget that. Also, vintage wooden shoe molds are my jam. They can be used as décor in bookcases and on shelving and are such a great conversation piece." But she does have one strong piece of design advice, though. "Don’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to baskets," she notes. "Big box stores like Pottery Barn and World Market have really great options and you can buy multiples."
Since the house had been renovated when the client purchased it, Lester only made a few small additions, such as a custom daybed swing made from reclaimed barn wood. "We worked on a very large remodel of the backyard, adding a pool, outdoor kitchen and dining area and made some smaller changes to the guest cottage," she says.
Statement architecture needs statement furniture to balance it out. "Don’t be afraid to go big to anchor a large space," says Lester. "Also, dining benches are a thing and they are awesome."
Lester's casual, curated, and quintessentially California style really shines through in this home. She fondly calls it "livable luxury" which translates to comfy sofas (in machine-washable fabrics), vintage rugs that can take a beating, and woods that are washed, bleached, and distressed. "I think that universally my coastal-inspired boho style is this really strange mixture of accessibility and aspiration," she explains. "I always say that Californians embrace a high-low culture, and a lot of that is reflected in our décor vibe. Gorgeous waterfront homes are often adorned with custom upholstery and commissioned art, while the inhabitants are most proud of the funky one-of-a-kind armchair we found at a flea market and had recovered in a textile from Mali."
When it comes to inspiration, Lester sees Instagram as a key source. "I feel like I should be saying something more dignified but the truth is that the internet is a treasure trove of design inspiration and I love it," she admits. "My team and I send inspirational images back and forth to each other and file them in those awesome folders on Instagram. It makes everything super accessible and organized when we are brainstorming design concepts for an upcoming presentation."
She also sees travel as a key source for inspiration—in particular, the restaurants, hotels, and shops along the way. "Commercial design pushes all of the boundaries, and hints of that make its way into our designs all of the time," she says.
With an adjacent loft, this family room already had a key focal point from which to begin designing around. The pairing of the oversized art pieces and custom reclaimed coffee tables is genius but the vintage ladder really steals the show. It's also her greatest find. "I found it at a flea market about 50 miles from Malibu, tied it to the top of my car, and drove it to the house myself," she says. "We were also seriously blessed by the rug gods during this project and found so many fantastic vintage Turkish rugs and runners."
The artwork is actually movie stills Lester found from the film Endless Summer. She had them enlarged in black and white to anchor the ceiling in the media room. "They are probably two of my favorite pieces ever, and they are classic Malibu surf culture," she says.
Coming into this project as a decorator proved a surprising design challenge for Lester. "95% of our projects are design-build so we are involved from framing to furnishings and have a lot more control over all of the home’s structural details," she says. "This was different because it was taking someone else’s vision for the structure, and then having to blend that seamlessly with the décor to make it look and feel like the house had been designed cohesively from the ground up."
So much of the house is a blend of Lester's eye and found objects she sourced for the space. Case in point, this fringed roman shade which is Lester's favorite part of the room. "It was a throw blanket I found at Urban Outfitters and made into a window treatment," she says. "Opportunity is everywhere."
For the color scheme, Lester kept coming back to the classic Malibu color palette of crisp whites, washed linens, and reclaimed woods. "I don’t think this look will ever feel dated or trendy," she says. "It’s timeless, comfortable, and gives the home an effortlessly cool feel throughout."
Between the ceiling, doors, windows, and flooring, Lester tells me there was "a lot" going on in this hallway so they installed a custom runner to ground the space and absorb some of the echoes.
Although a lot of the pieces were brought in, a few were existing such as the bed head in the master bedroom. "That thing was built into the ground," says Lester. "It was a very unique element. Probably not something I would have ever designed, but sometimes those challenges end up being opportunities to think outside the box." But once her team installed the custom bedding and styled the alcoves, she fell in love with its romanticism."
When you are keeping things simple with white walls and natural woods, Lester says art is your biggest asset. She notes; "You can also add interest with detailing in furniture pieces and rugs."
When asked to list her favorite thing about the space, Lester says, "The light. I love the way the light plays off the plaster walls and the crisp, white upholstery. I also love that the aesthetic gives a nod to classic Malibu surf culture and style. It is coastal-inspired but there is no literal beach theme."
Not a single shell in the house. This was very important to Lester. She knew her team could convey the beach house aesthetic in other ways.
This hallway resembles some of the modern changes to the home but the rustic pendant lights are a nod to the ranch style.
Lester always uses every square inch of the headboard wall when designing a bedroom. She is convinced that by maximizing that space it actually makes the room feel larger. "I love this rug, too, but it sheds a lot," she says. "Also, the fringe was randomly a little longer on one side than the other, so, on install day we were literally on the ground trimming the fringe with a pair of scissors. Interior design is so glamorous."
One thing Lester has taught us throughout this project is that design can be subjective. "When it comes to your home (or your design decisions) own them," she urges. "If someone comes into your space and leaves talking about the décor (be it positive or negative) you’ve won. I would much rather someone say something about my design decisions than find them so lackluster they say nothing at all. Think outside of the box, be in the solutions business, and don’t take no for an answer." Sage advice, indeed.