The phrase “sea change” usually describes profound social or political shifts. Still, it could also apply to dramatic lifestyle transformations, such as the one this couple experienced when they traded a traditional Cape Cod-style dwelling for a modern, light-filled home in Tiburon, California, with marvelous bay views. Although their designer, Maja Lithander Smith, wondered what would happen to the elements she’d selected for their former home, she also spotted an opportunity.
“The new house, designed by architect Scott Ryan a few years ago, is very modern, and the husband, in particular, was drawn to that aesthetic,” Smith says. “The wife, who is a friend, loved the pieces we had installed in their last home and wanted to bring the same feeling to this one. The design direction was to use some of those beloved objects to warm up the new space.” In truth, the style evolution began prior to the move, as the couple had already started adding modern elements to the mix at their traditional abode, including a custom patterned rug, which Smith knew would translate beautifully in their new living room.
The parallel direction was to create spaces that would work for an active family. The genesis of the move was to garner more space for their clan—two kids and a pair of cats. “ They wanted to create a house not just for their family, but also a place where friends could gather,” says Smith.
Almost any assembly is enhanced by a vibrant setting, so Smith decided to enliven the existing neutral tones. “The architectural moments were there, such as an open floor plan and doors that open up the back of the house, but we wanted to add more color,” Smith says. “The wife and I love blue and green, and we decided to bring the green of the garden inside with elements like the dining room chairs.” The same shades appear on the outdoor pillows, encouraging the eye to travel outside. The color shifts to blue and gray in the media room to mimic the ever-present scenes of fog and water.
The furnishings possess bold, graceful forms. “They all combine circular and linear elements,” Smith says. “Those incredible brass legs on the coffee table have a C-shaped curve, as do the Lucite barstools.” Furnishings also include midcentury- modern pieces like a pair of chrome chairs in the living room and the dining chairs—all vintage Milo Baughman pieces—that were re-covered for a new lease on life.
Throughout the home, Smith worked with the couple to weave in “wow” moments. There’s a striking art installation by Jim Campbell as you enter the house, for example, and as you ascend the stairs, you pass beneath a custom light fixture composed of dangling glass globes. “It’s an incredible piece,” says Smith, who incorporated other head-turning light fixtures both vintage and new throughout the home.
The husband is an emerging art collector with an eye for photography, which Smith also appreciates. “It’s fun to have a client who cares about the same things you do,” she says. “We all enjoy the Jock McDonald photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge in the hallway.”
Smith says the home’s crowning jewel is the main bedroom, featuring a hand-painted mural of a redwood forest by Caroline Lizarraga. (The husband, who grew up in Marin County, has an affinity for the tall trees that populate the Bay Area.) “It envelops you in this warm, ethereal embrace, and it also anchors the space,” Smith says. “We made this space feel a little cozier since it is a retreat.”
The happy mix of public life happens outside of the retreat. With durable materials, like the outdoor fabric used to cover all the interior seats, furnishings are designed to stand up to life with kids and cats alike. And, although public gatherings aren’t in full force, the house is well- suited for entertaining. “She is on the board of a charity, and she uses her home for fundraising functions,” says Smith. “It’s an incredible space to have a party.”
Between friends and family, the sound of conversations and laughter often fills the air, and it is music to the designer’s ears. As she puts it, “It was a delight to work on the house, but the best feeling is of making everyone happy.”