A Coastal Southern California Home Filled with Old World Finishes


Mediterranean White Master Bedroom with Blue Ceiling

Natural light pours into the bedroom, amplified by a sky blue vaulted ceiling. Contrasting the space’s airy feel is the clients’ antique four poster bed; a white lacquer nightstand from Sylvester & Co. in Amagansett, New York, sits alongside.

Mediterranean Brown Dining Area

A Dale Chihuly vessel captures the colors of beach and sky atop a striking Holly Hunt table in the dining area. Chairs from Artistic Frame are fitted with custom embroidered fabric coverings. The Roman shades designed by Marshall Watson serve as a scrim against the bountiful sunlight.

Mediterranean Cream Dining Room with Stone Accent Wall

With an antique French farmhouse table and spool spindle back chairs, the breakfast room flaunts a rustic quality. The Beauvais carpet was inspired by early American hooked rugs. An oversize iron chandelier from Holly Hunt is a worthy match for the room’s formidable stone walls and beamed ceiling.

Mediterranean Cream Plaster Foyer

The foyer's iron scroll work railing and antique Flemish tapestry have been there since the home’s inception. A peek into the family room affords a glimpse of its stone and wood floor.

Mediterranean Cream Family Room Hearth

Nestled in front of the stately hearth in the family room, nailhead trimmed wing chairs by Holly Hunt—a modern take on a venerable classic—flank a wood coffee table from John Rosselli Antiques in New York. An abaca rug warms up the room’s stone flooring.

Mediterranean Living Room with White Upholstery

In the living room, gilded, wood armchairs by Rose Tarlow Melrose House, along with wing chairs by Holly Hunt, provide generously proportioned seating. A coffee table topped with bleached oak parquet, also by Holly Hunt, and a nubby natural fiber rug from Beauvais in New York introduce new notes of relaxation.

Mediterranean Foyer with Wooden Console

A gilded Italian mirror and 18th-century Venetian walnut commode greet visitors entering the house.

As things stood before designer Marshall Watson came along, the house could scarcely have been more out of context. Hung with tapestries and furnished with formal antiques, “it looked like an Old World European chateau, heavy and dark,” Watson recalls. But the house isn’t deep in the Alps; it’s at the water’s edge in sunny Southern California.

The homeowners—a couple with a blended family and many children between them—had grown tired of the seriousness. So they called upon New York-based Marshall Watson Interiors to mastermind a full-on redecoration that would make the house congruent with its sparkling coastal setting. “The clients wanted a sense that they were on the ocean,” says Watson. “We needed to bring the heaviness level down so that people could breathe.”

Many aspects of the existing house, finished a dozen years ago by Thomas J. Taylor Construction of La Mesa, were well worth retaining. “The house took three years to build,” Taylor says. “Our own shop steamed and bent the arched doorways; the walls were treated with a three-step plaster process; and the ceiling beams are hand-hewn of vintage materials, with a beautiful patina. Everything was done very meticulously and with an eye on detail.”

“The interior architecture is gutsy and muscular, and we loved certain things about it,” Watson says. At the same time, much needed changing. “Our task was to freshen the interior furnishings and make them light and clean and sophisticated,” says Jeffrey Kilmer, the firm’s senior designer. As they set about to establish a more casual counterpoint to the massive ceiling beams, stone floors and iron scrollwork, the designers knew that the materials and furnishings they introduced needed to hold their own against the powerful architecture or risk being overwhelmed. So they brought in pieces with strong, compelling shapes, including new sofas and chairs of the firm’s own design, with clear, simple lines and in creamy neutral colors. Upholstered pieces were done in pale-toned linens but always with hearty textures. “All of the fabrics, though primarily linens and linen weaves, are rich and thick,” Watson says. “Everything reads casual but is quite substantial.”

Heavy window treatments of silk and damask were banished. “No more swags, jabots, cornices or draperies puddling two feet into the room,” Kilmer says. In their stead came natural light, regulated by tailored curtains and Roman shades. Out with patterned Oriental carpets; in with nubby abaca rugs. New lamps and accessories of crystal, mercury glass and silver catch glints of sunlight winking through the morning mist. Of course, Watson and Kilmer found places for the homeowners’ important antiques, including a circa-1760 French walnut armoire and a spectacular 18th-century Venetian walnut commode, supplementing them with more relaxed pieces such as iron coffee tables and an Italian trestle table with a bleached wood top—“things that are simpler and a bit more country,” as Watson puts it.

In selecting an overall palette, the designers took direction from the living room’s hand-painted mural that evokes a European seaside scene in pale lavender, grays and blues. “That led us toward a neutral palette of cream, off-white and wheat-colored fabrics, without a lot of pattern,” Kilmer explains. The neutrals create a tranquil backdrop for the mural as well as for the stunning view through the window bay in the dining area at the far end of the living room. “Now, when you walk into the main living space, your eye isn’t pulled in a hundred directions—it goes directly out the windows to the blue of the Pacific.”

Since Watson simplified the interiors, the owners find the home to be a much more pleasant place to live. “We made it more casual, transparent and fluid,” Watson says, “so that light from the ocean can shimmer in.” At last, the house is at one with its setting—and looks as if it is right where it belongs.