During the three years it took to build their sleek modernist home in Laguna Beach, a psychiatrist and his restaurateur wife worked closely with their designers to orchestrate the interiors around the couple’s museum-quality asian antiques. But after 20 years in the house, the nest was empty and the homeowners—now retired and frequent fliers with homes in New York and Mexico—were ready to downsize. There was no question as to whom they would call to help them make the move.
“We just love the simplicity of their design,” the wife says of June and Scott Louis Brown, a mother-and-son interior design team based in Bend, Oregon. “And we wanted them to take the same art-first approach in our new home.”
Indeed, the two so trust the designers that when they discovered this residence in Newport Coast, they brought the Browns in before making the acquisition to confirm whether or not some tweaks would render the structure more to their liking. The Mediterranean-influenced house, with its tile roof and Palladian windows, was the stylistic antithesis of their former abode. “Even though it was traditional, we loved the grandeur and high ceilings of the new space,” the wife explains. “It’s also very private and since we travel so often, the gated aspect was a real plus.”
The Browns made minor changes to the outside of the house, then focused their energies on simplifying the inside. Thus, wallpaper was replaced with whitewashed walls that provide a gallery-like backdrop for the art, and decorative lighting gave way to recessed fixtures that disappear into the architecture. White shutters throughout further unify the interiors and create cleaner lines. “The bones of the house were uncomplicated and we left them that way,” Scott says. “We wanted the art to be the standout.”
Next came the layout, another of the couple’s concerns. Dana Point builder Jake Hiemstra was brought in to enclose a courtyard—which then connected the private rooms more directly to the living areas—and to open up a sitting room to the master bedroom, creating a larger, more cohesive space. “The idea was to make it look as if it had always been that way,” Hiemstra says. The new walnut flooring in the former courtyard, matched to existing floors elsewhere in the house, reflects that edict.
Once the structural changes were complete, the art took center stage. “It dictated everything in the design,” says Scott. One of the couple’s most important works, a gesso-and-wood mask of a Fudo Myo-o, or Japanese deity, from the Muromachi period, which had been on longtime loan to New York’s Brooklyn Museum, became the focal point of the entry parlor. Another major piece, a Chinese golden paper screen from the 18th century, sets the tone in the dining room.
In addition to modernizing the home’s traditional style, another challenge for the designers was to fit their clients’ existing furnishings into the house, which is 3,000 square feet smaller than their former residence. “We edited,” says Scott. “Everything else was re-covered, repurposed and reworked.”
In the dining room, for example, 14 klismos-style chairs with a pickled finish that Scott had designed for the previous house were given a darker, more formal lacquer to complement their new surroundings. Four French-inspired chairs, reupholstered in a zebra print and scattered throughout the house, give the quiet palette a dash of pattern.
Scott welcomed working with predominantly existing furnishings on this project; only a new coffee table and a sofa had to be purchased. “It was fun to see their things transformed in a different environment,” says the designer, who is already thinking ahead. Those concrete tables in the dining room? “Maybe next time we’ll put them outdoors,” Scott muses. “Who knows?”