Beyond the charming façade of the Cape Cod-style residence they had just finished renovating, a stylistic change was brewing for Matt and Julie White. “Over time, more and more of our furnishings were becoming distinctly modern,” recalls White.
Their full conversion into Modernists didn’t come about until the couple toured—and subsequently purchased—a 1965 residence in Newport Beach, California, and encountered the property’s pool courtyard, crowned by a vast (but non-functioning) retractable roof framing big, blue California skies. That alone presented a tempting challenge for White, a custom home builder. Overlooking sweeping views of Newport’s Back Bay, the house also featured rooms and hallways just off kilter, creating dramatic sight lines throughout the space. “I truly fell in love with the angles of this home,” White recalls of that first tour. “It felt like a modern piece of art you could fall inside and get lost.”
Serving as the general contractor for the project, White’s first instinct focused on preserving the midcentury modern feel, down to the vintage finishes like the courtyard’s classic terrazzo. “In my mind I thought of the process as restoring an original 1965 Corvette,” he says. “For the longest time my plan was to bring every part of the house back to its original state.” More moved by the home’s quirky architectural bones, however, “Julie really wanted to try something more playful,” White reports.
Visions of strict midcentury authenticity further changed when the couple recruited interior designer Erica Bryen, whom White first met while they worked together on the Lido House hotel in Newport Beach. The couple proved open “to a more fun, funky, outside-the-box look,” notes Bryen, who reimagined the home in graphic black and white, punctuated with generous doses of pattern and metallic shimmer. “I love layering geometric prints, and using different kinds of materials, from metal to leather, to get different effects,” she says.
The couple kept true to the home’s architectural canvas, preserving most of the original floor plan, working with architect Keith Palmer of Bryant Palmer Soto. Small tweaks included enlarging the bedrooms for their two sons and removing a huge fireplace that spliced the living space into a separate dining area. “This gave us room to create a large kitchen and a great room overlooking the Back Bay,” explains White. New glazing helped enhance these expansive vistas. And, reviving the pool courtyard became a labor of love for White, who restored the massive retractable skylight, replacing the rusted gears with a modern system. “Now we can keep it open to let in lots of fresh air, and close it off when it rains,” he says.
More modern touches came from Bryen’s contemporary palette. Midcentury terrazzo was set aside in favor of warm hardwood floors. The designer also introduced bold wall treatments to create dynamic backgrounds for the couple’s art collection, like the geometric white oak paneling and painterly black and white Porter Teleo wallpaper in the showstopping hallway running along the courtyard. “That wallpaper itself is like a piece of art,” says the interior designer. “They hand paint the designs on beautiful, thick paper.”
Further inside, striking materials define the social hubs, starting with the living room’s fireplace, pairing smoky basalt with a floating hearth made in black rainbow slabs. “I saw a beautiful black rainbow wall once at a hotel in Anguilla and fell in love with the material, so I knew I wanted to use it here,” says Bryen.
The black rainbow continues in the kitchen on the countertops and waterfall island. The stonework needed to hold its own among the space’s gleaming metallics, especially the shimmering brass range hood and cabinets backed with mirrors to capture the light. “We wanted it to look like a piece of jewelry,” explains Bryen. “We also continued the brass with inlays in the other cabinets and on the fridge.”
As a nod to the home’s midcentury roots, the interior designer favored more streamlined silhouettes for the furnishings, injecting personality with bold prints and texture. A striped Missoni area rug and brass and Mongolian goat hair-covered lounge chairs bring welcome whimsy in the living room. For the master bedroom, Bryen orchestrated a medley of patterns with marbleized Porter Teleo wallpaper and draperies with a geometric design. “I never like pieces too minimalist, because I want these spaces to feel comfortable,” she notes. “This should be a fun house to hang out in.”
Among these vintage restorations and fresh finishes, the couple feels most proud of preserving the same inviting atmosphere they encountered on that first tour. “Yes, the home is a showpiece, but it’s also so warm and inviting,” says White. “With our three kids and three dogs, we really get to live in this house and call it our own.”