Not long after design duo Deborah Costa and Kristine Renee of Design Alchemy completed their large-scale renovation of this Rancho Santa Fe residence, they found themselves back inside the house for a fundraiser. Mixed in among 100 or so of their clients’ guests—none of whom knew of their involvement in the decor—they were able to observe responses to their work firsthand. “It was fascinating to watch people react with surprise when they turned a corner or see them taking photos of a room,” Costa recalls. Their clients, Katie and John Mardikian, say that Costa and Renee shouldn’t have been shocked by the enthusiasm. “They brought life and spirit to a house where everything was brown and beige, the shade of coffee ice cream,” John recalls with a laugh. “We asked for more color and whimsy, and that’s certainly what we got.”
The designers concede that the abode was suffering from an identity crisis: It was built as a Tuscan, then given more modern aesthetics over two previous renovations. The goal was to bring it back to its Spanish-style roots and “take out all the contemporary elements that had been added,” Costa explains.
Since this was the third time they’d worked with the couple and their 6-year-old twins, Costa and Renee were well-acquainted with how they live. The designers were also sensitive to the fact that this move marked a major life transition for the family: The diagnosis of their daughter with Type 1 diabetes prompted this relocation, which allowed them to live closer to Katie’s parents. “Buying this house made sense, but I wasn’t in love with it,” she explains. “Deborah and Kristine really saved the day and found the sense of home that we needed.”
With general contractor Connor Matzinger, a family friend with a personal connection to the property—his father’s company had originally built the abode—the designers introduced details worthy of classic Spanish-style dwellings. Squared-off openings were arched and the woodwork was stained a traditional deep brown. The team pared down plastered fireplaces, swapped shiny travertine for Saltillo tile in nearly a dozen patterns and utilized a generous helping of Mexican Talavera tiles to redo the six bathrooms. “All the Saltillo flooring warmed up the house,” Matzinger notes. “And the dark beams now make it feel like a Santa Barbara home.”
No spaces or walls were removed, though in the living room, an area the designers re-envisioned to have a more casual lounge vibe, the team constructed three arched niches replete with built-ins and Spanish-inspired cabinetry to create an integrated bar area. The primary bathroom also received a major reconfiguration that included lowering the ceiling to create a greater sense of charm and intimacy. But, otherwise, it was all about rethinking surfaces and introducing color and pattern.
While it proudly displays its Mediterranean credentials, the home is anything but a period recreation. Wallpapers in a profusion of prints—like the mermaids and seahorses frolicking in the daughter’s bathroom, the clay-pot motif adorning the pantry and the floral in the library—keep things fresh. There’s a level of practicality too: The living room features sofas in an indoor-outdoor performance fabric and a rug made of jute squares that are stitched together and can each be easily replaced should wear occur.
Costa and Renee also doubled the size of the kitchen’s high counter so it could serve as a second island, as the Mardikians love to entertain. And they made sure to incorporate a few favorite pieces including a stone-topped dining table from their previous home and a painting depicting a scene from the classic poem Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám that once hung in John’s grandfather’s restaurant in San Francisco.
The family now has a house that suits how they live. And as for the exteriors, with expansive gardens by landscape architect Sean Van Slyke, movement from the inside out is seamless, the homeowners say. “When we hosted a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation fundraiser here, it was great—we could have comfortably had even more people,” Katie enthuses. Those words are music to the designers’ ears. Says Costa, “This home just flows now. And though every space is so different, each has such a feeling of warmth.”