We hit it off immediately,” says designer Erika Gervin of meeting her client. Each woman had previously lived in both Atlanta and Dallas, and that shared Southern sensibility fostered familiarity from day one. “It’s always good to have a client who is trusting,” Gervin explains. “And one way to build trust is to become friends first. And we really did.”
The client and her husband had recently scooped up a dilapidated 1976 house in Encinitas, California, and turned to the designer to give it a much-needed makeover. The mission: merging the couple’s occasionally conflicting taste while honoring the laid-back lifestyle of the neighborhood. “We had a very clear vision of what their new home would be,” Gervin says. “White and bright with a modern coastal California vibe.” But the house had languished nearly untouched for decades, so she knew it would require a complete gut, from soup to nuts. “We took it almost down to the studs, basically just started over,” she says.
For such an ambitious undertaking, Gervin called on general contractor David Smith of D C Smith Construction, who, as a native of Australia, innately understood the beachy aesthetic the designer was after. Their plans entailed replacing old skylights, maximizing square footage, minimizing trim, and improving the flow of traffic throughout. The living room’s original red-brick fireplace was left intact but modified with a more streamlined profile and a coat of white paint. Smith applied a consistent stain to the space’s floating shelves, the mantel and to the kitchen’s open storage as well. He also crafted built-ins with the help of his sister and father, who own a custom cabinetry workshop nearby. One of these follows the ascent of the staircase, which previously was precariously narrow. Now enclosed, to accommodate a new laundry room beneath, it has become a full-on architectural feature.
Smith’s kin likewise lent their talents to the cabinetry in the bathrooms and kitchen, milling sleek Shaker-style fronts. “I think that was very much a nod to the coastal style,” Gervin says of the choice. “It’s a little traditional but definitely a modern take.” And while the sky blue kitchen island provided a welcome infusion of color, the countertops became a point of difference for the homeowners. Though the wife is the one with Southern roots, it was her husband (hailing from Santa Cruz) who requested old-school elements throughout the abode. “He would have columns and a white picket fence out front if he could,” the designer says with a laugh. For the countertops, the husband wanted Carrara marble. “To me, that’s such a Southern choice,” she notes. But when the wife vetoed the material in favor of something easier to maintain, Gervin met them in the middle, cladding the walls with Calacatta Gold marble to add depth and warmth and laying easy-care quartz on the counters.
The husband was also smitten with their existing, rough-hewn trestle table–a component that Gervin was challenged to offset with contemporary dining chairs. “We probably went through multiple iterations,” the designer recounts, before everyone settled on curved black velvet versions with dark beech legs.
When the husband voiced his desire for buttery leather armchairs in the living room, Gervin chose not the expected club or Chesterfield style, but a streamlined midcentury silhouette. Says the designer: “He got his leather lounge chairs, and she got the midcentury modern look.” Opposite the caramel-colored pair, a spindly lamp is countered by a plump sofa. Softly slipcovered and topped with pillows in faded fabrics and classic motifs, the cozy sitting spot is reminiscent of the subtly striped linen bedding in the master bedroom–just one of the many ways Gervin captured this family’s warmth and individuality.
The surf prints in the entryway offer another hint. “They spend a ton of time outside,” says the designer. “He’s a big surfer. They love to walk to the beach and the heart of town.” And when they’re not tooling around at the local farmers market and restaurants nearby, the couple has an easy, breezy home base for their kids to grow up in a veritable paradise.
“They live in this tropical oasis: It’s this huge garden that surrounds their home. It’s a perfect place for children to run around,” says Gervin, who’s waiting in the wings, should the couple decide to tackle a landscape redesign. “When you get to build a relationship through the journey, it’s a win-win. The wife and I are dying for an excuse to go have a glass of wine.”