Husband-and-wife design duo, Steve and Brooke Giannetti, have seemingly conquered time. The couple–he’s an architect and she’s a designer–know how to create structures and spaces that appear to transcend the decades, conjuring up a feeling that’s at once enduring and contemporary. “We like to juxtapose antiques with clean, modern elements,” Brooke says. “Antiques bring history and patina to a project, and things like sheets of glass and unadorned walls balance that out.” Recently, the Giannettis waved their age-defying wand on a 1970s Spanish-Mediterranean-style house in Malibu, California, maintaining its old-world quality, while making it open, airy and relevant.
The Giannettis’ clients were drawn to Malibu for its iconic landscape. “The house is on this beautiful, grassy lot near the ocean,” Brooke says. “But the rooms were dark, the layout was broken up and all of the wood was orangey.” After working with their architect of record, Douglas W. Burdge of Burdge & Associates Architects, who completed much of the permitting for the project, the clients commissioned the Giannettis to update their home.
Steve began by freshening up the exterior, removing the old, orange-toned roof tiles and replacing them with hand-selected antique clay tiles in a paler hue. A coating of new bright-white stucco enlivened the walls. Windows were added or enlarged, tying the rooms to the views of Malibu and a courtyard as well as overlooking a garden conceived by landscape designer Paul Keningale, whose “simple, refined yet rustic approach,” as he puts it, introduced drought-tolerant Mediterranean plants. “The palette is predominantly blue, gray and greens with splashes of pink from ground cover and climbing roses,” Keningale says. “It complements the tones of the architecture, the cobblestone driveway and the gravel ground cover.”
For the home’s interior, the architect began from scratch. “We pretty much gutted it,” Steve says. “I rearranged and reconfigured some of the rooms and created taller and wider doorways.” When it came to the interior finishes, Steve and Brooke layered rich textures and neutral colors that imparted a sense of tranquility. Ceiling beams were lightened and wide planks of white oak replaced Saltillo tiles on the floors. For the walls, they selected cream-colored plaster for its dynamic quality. “It picks up the sunlight and kind of glows but isn’t too precious,” Steve says. The steel frame around some of the windows “recreates the old-world European look of putty-glazed windows,” says general contractor Nathan Jones, who worked on the project with his business partner, David Charvet. The antique vanities the Giannettis placed in the bathrooms and the antique doors they chose for many of the rooms heighten the home’s sense of timelessness. “The antiques pick up the texture of the landscape,” Brooke says. “We don’t use ornate pieces. We use things that are more natural and of organic materials and that complement nature.”
To set off the landscape, the Giannettis outfitted the interior with furnishings that, like the hard finishes, are tonally muted but offer dashes of color. “It’s mostly neutrals with pale blues and greens and some rust, too,” notes Brooke. Sofas and armchairs covered in oatmeal-colored linen lend a casual, serene ambience to the living room and great room. The pieces, from the couple’s Giannetti Home line, says Steve, “have slimmer proportions and don’t have a lot of detail. In other words, they’re not overstuffed with a lot of curves.” In the stair hall, an antique Swedish grandfather clock adds an aqua tone, as does a cabinet in the den, while the sofa pillows in the living room, the backsplash tile and the leather-upholstered chairs in the great room bring earth tones. “Many people are nervous that if a place doesn’t have a lot of color, it’s going to feel sterile or washed out,” Brooke says. “But it really doesn’t. It’s just very calm.”
While the imaginative couple may appear to bend time to their will, “We’re not trying to recreate anything,” Steve says. In fact, their blending of styles is more a function of practicality. “People like old houses for the details,” Steve says, “but they don’t like boxy rooms or the fact that they don’t connect to the outdoors.” And isolation from nature is especially undesirable in Malibu. “These clients wanted an indoor-outdoor lifestyle,” Brooke says. “We wanted to create a design that supports the landscape rather than competes with it. This is a spectacular site.”