When Sarah and Jay Flatley thought about designing their spacious home in Rancho Santa Fe, Sarah’s mind drifted to childhood memories of carefree days spent along Central California’s ruggedly scenic coast. “A close relative lives in Carmel, right above the beach, with a vast view of the ocean and the wind- swept cypress trees,” she says. “I grew up spending lots of time there.” Sarah wanted her own home to evoke the coastline’s natural beauty and tranquility, and recruited designer Kathleen Kita-Palmer to tackle the job.
While many homes in the community are decidedly Spanish or Tuscan, Sarah says theirs was nearly “a blank slate,” allowing them plenty of aesthetic wiggle room. The Flatleys had already decorated their master suite and other private areas with soothing ocean blues and greens. So, for the main areas, Kita-Palmer suggested using a warm palette inspired by the coastal countryside—golden tones, persimmon and chocolate—as a visual bridge from one end of the home to the other.
But perhaps the biggest challenge was making the grand rooms feel cozy and intimate. “The ceilings are very high, and the homes here are much larger than what I was used to growing up in the Bay Area,” Sarah says. “We wanted to make design decisions that would warm it up. That included using hardwood floors versus the excessive existing travertine, and bringing in artwork and objects that were large enough to fill the space. The goal was to give the rooms balance and proportionality.”
One of Sarah’s favorite spaces is the entry hall, which pays tribute to the coastal trees she so loves. The hallway is anchored by a contemporary metal tree sculpture by John McDavid on one end, and a painting of a tree by Robin Hall at the other. “I knew when we bought this house that I was going to have a painting that captured the feel of that coastal expanse,” Sarah says. “One of my favorite things is walking down that hallway while my kids are nearby, practicing piano with their instructor.”
The piano is situated off to the side in the living room and its bench was given a tapestry cushion so the instrument would fit seamlessly into the space. The family gets a special treat when Jay’s grown son, Jason—a professional jazz pianist—visits and takes a spin at the keys. “Our daughters have been playing since they were about four, and my husband and I have a goal of learning to play, too, so when we go by the piano, it reminds us that we need to get to that,” Sarah laughs.
Kita-Palmer partnered up with furniture makers to create several custom pieces, including a dining table that expands to seat 14 people. “The table has clipped corners, and we added an inlaid marquetry detail with an arabesque vining pattern around the top and in the center, which I designed,” Kita-Palmer says. “No one else has a table like that.”
Today, friends, family and business associates feel equally at ease in the couple’s home. And while the Flatleys eagerly embraced most of the pieces that Kita-Palmer brought into the house, Sarah admits that one was met with a bit of skepticism. “There’s a very wild looking Andre´ Arbus cabinet in the entry hall, and when it came in, I remember sitting on the entry stairs and hyperventilating, because I have very traditional tastes,” she says. “But I just went with Kathleen’s judgment, and it’s become my favorite piece in the house.”