Near the end of one holiday season, interior designer Erin Cantu set a goal for the new year: to land her first ground-up project. Not even two weeks later, she was introduced to a couple seeking help for this exact purpose. Niki Rubin and her husband, Cole, planned to build a house for their young family on a lot across the street from Niki’s childhood home. She and Cantu connected over their shared “less is more” ethos and, months earlier than expected, the interior designer’s resolution soon manifested. “It was an awesome way to start the year,” she laughs.
From the outset, Cantu and her clients envisioned a house that was refined yet conducive for an active lifestyle with three children. Plans initiated by residential designer John E. Balistreri, and the late engineer of record Paul A. Hagler, presented a contemporary West Indies-style residence with an open-concept layout that places the bedrooms upstairs and public spaces on the main floor. “We created a design that is livable and casual but formal enough for any event,” Balistreri says, noting features like ceiling beams, a stylish bar and a media room. “Even though the house is large enough for every type of gathering, we were particularly focused on keeping each area to scale and feeling homey.” Part of that involved letting in an abundance of natural light by connecting nearly every room to the exterior spaces, including creating balconies for many of the bedrooms and fully opening the family room to the covered patio. “The house lends itself to the outdoors,” observes builder David Schack, who also converted garages into an indoor basketball court for the sports-loving family. Meanwhile, in the spacious backyard, Cantu and Niki conceived a clean-lined pool with a porcelain deck, while landscape architect Chuck Yannette introduced a desert feel with succulents and agave plants.
Once the groundwork was set, the interior designer established a backdrop of mostly white walls and warm wood throughout the house. “White oak was the species of choice,” she says, pointing to millwork. The next layer introduces a palette of durable finishes in tones of honey, caramel and tobacco that reflect her clients’ style. “My aesthetic is casual, functional and somewhat minimalist,” Niki describes. “I like a worn-in polished look and want all the materials in the house to be practical.” The media room walls, for instance, have a textural matte application, and the club room boasts a bar with a hammered-copper top and herringbone-patterned flooring. But the showstopper is the deeply veined Calacatta Gold marble of the kitchen’s backsplash and double islands. “Every neutral color we wanted to embrace is in that stone—it ties everything together,” Cantu says. “We wanted it to be super dynamic and dramatic, taking more of a maximalist approach there.”
Echoing the home’s framework, the interior designer leaned into natural colors for furnishings and focused on comfortable, enduring textures. Leather appears on the metal-armed living room chairs and wood-framed dining chairs, exuding a relaxed Danish ambience. In the cozy primary bedroom, she grounded the space with a vintage rug in a mix of browns and deep eggplant tones. By highly editing the selections to create a contemporary, soft atmosphere, Cantu allowed the focal point in most spaces to be the accent lighting, like the dining room’s twin mottled-brass fixtures and the stairwell’s brass sconces. “The background in the house is cool and relaxed and doesn’t have a lot of detail,” she notes. “This enabled us to use the lighting as a subtle jewelry effect.” Then there is the art collection, in which the interior designer and the Rubins arranged cheeky works such as paintings of dueling 1990s rap stars in the living and dining spaces. “We put one on the east side and the other on the west side—like an old-school rap feud,” Cantu says. “They’re huge conversation pieces.”
The creation of the home proved to be a moment of kismet not just for the interior designer but also the owners. “When my husband and I were 18, he said he was going to live on this lot one day,” Niki recalls. “I thought he was crazy, but it was meant to be.