For years, Easterners have headed West in search of fortune, sunnier weather and a storied landscape. In the case of designer Maria Barry’s recent clients—a family who called the Baltimore area home for 10 years—it was the warmer climate as well as the promise of an easier lifestyle that drew them to Rancho Santa Fe, an idyllic community marked by towering eucalyptus trees and Spanish-style architecture. With nothing but an armful of family photographs and a few suitcases, the couple and their two young daughters said goodbye to their traditional East Coast residence and relocated to a Spanish-style home with transitional interiors designed by Barry. “The husband worked in financial investments and traveled constantly,” the designer says. “His wife and daughters were often home alone. He vowed that when he retired, he’d buy an estate in Rancho Santa Fe and never leave them again.” And that he did.
The real estate agent who helped the husband keep his promise and find the perfect California residence for his family also introduced him to Barry. From the beginning, the designer understood this project would be dramatically different from others she had worked on. “This was their dream home,” she explains. “They were starting with a clean slate and bringing almost nothing with them. There was a lot of pressure, but I welcomed the challenge. I was completely enamored with the courage it took to pick up and move across the country to a place where they knew no one.”
The fact that the family remained in Maryland until the interiors were complete lent to that challenge. “We only met in person maybe three times,” Barry says. “I gave the wife a presentation, and she loved it. Then I just sent them packages with samples and choices.” Those packages were filled with neutral-toned fabric swatches and understated selections for finishes. The imagery of furniture and fixtures she sent depicted simple but graphic silhouettes that displayed rich textures such as metal, travertine, linen and silk. “Rancho Santa Fe has rules and regulations about keeping buildings authentic,” Barry notes. “Because of that, people feel they have to do a dark, heavy interior. But these clients had a dark, heavy interior. They wanted something more current for their new house, something clean and simple with lighter colors.”
Barry’s vision included strategically changing the finishes. In the kitchen, she replaced the red-and-gold granite of the counters with white quartz and brightened the backsplash with limestone subway tiles. She painted the island cabinetry a soothing gray tone and maintained the natural wood color of the rest of the cabinetry in the space. There were hardwood floors throughout most of the house, but some portions of the floor were covered with red clay or decorative tile. “We removed the tile and continued the wood to create flow and simplicity,” she says. “It’s stained a medium brown and is distressed; it’s easy and comfortable and has a low sheen that’s very natural looking.” The designer left the cream-colored Venetian plaster walls as they were. “We didn’t touch them,” she says. “They blended well with the gray and white elements I added.”
Once the look of the interior shell was sufficiently lighter and brighter, Barry customized or found furnishings that bridged the old-world style of the architecture with the updated sensibility of the finishes. “The table in the dining room is made with a live-edge piece of wood that’s 10 feet long,” she says. “It has imperfections and an irregular shape. I looked at many slabs before choosing the one I thought was perfect for this house.” Clean-lined side chairs upholstered with off-white leather offset the rustic table and a reproduction Spanish-style buffet crafted from reclaimed wood. The designer then placed a modern low-slung sofa covered in cream-colored fabric with traditional-style wing chairs dressed with taupe mohair in the living room, where a massive iron chandelier from Ralph Lauren Home hangs above a large sculptural custom coffee table with a travertine top.
Barry also used bold prints and rich textures to add interest to the interior’s subdued palette. “I did contemporary patterns that read as transitional because the colors are neutral,” says the designer, who appointed the dining room with a beige silk-and-wool rug that features a white geometric print. She outfitted the living room with creamy linen draperies embroidered with a sand-colored oval pattern and sofa pillows with white fabric that showcases a circular botanical print in khaki. For the master bedroom, Barry chose silk-velvet draperies, a tufted-leather headboard and a wool shag rug.
“It was unbelievable to be trusted to do a project like this,” Barry says. “The clients’ story just drove me.” And it’s a relief to know that the story—a family who moves across the country with very little to start a new life in a redesigned house they haven’t seen—had quite a happy ending. “I knew when they were arriving, so I went and turned on the lights and put fresh fruit in the kitchen,” Barry says. “I lit candles and put on all of the finishing touches. About two hours later, I got the most incredible text messages, phone calls and even a video of the two daughters running into their rooms and saying that the house was a dream come true. It was so rewarding to see those little girls’ faces. I slept well that night knowing they were so happy.” And her clients slept well, too—all together in the bright and comfortable West Coast home they had dreamed of for so long.