Terry Adamson has always trusted her intuition. When she met her future husband at 18, that was it. When she bought her last car, she skipped the test drive. And when she decided to downsize, once she glimpsed photos of a Malibu fixer with stunning ocean views, she snapped it up—and then informed architect Paul Williger that he’d been enlisted to renovate it. “Terry left me a voicemail saying, ‘I hope you’ll take the project because I’ve already hired you,’ ” he recalls with a laugh. Determining the interiors followed the same pattern. “I’d show her 10 fabrics in a showroom, she’d point at one, and I’d say, ‘But I need to show you more!’ and she’d say, ‘No, I like the first one. Next!’ ” says designer Judith Gill Schley, who’s also Terry’s close friend of 25 years. “She’s very decisive.”
Perhaps it only makes sense: Terry is a decision-maker by trade, a retired court commissioner who teaches part-time at Pepperdine University. Yet despite all the resolute action taken to create her home—transformed from a ho-hum 1960s tract house into a timeless European-inspired coastal sanctuary—having a new residence was never in Terry’s plans. When her husband, Grant, was killed during a ballooning accident seven years ago, staying in the Serra Retreat home they’d once shared became unbearable. “We built that house, and it was difficult to leave it, but it was too hard to be there without him,” she says. “I needed to move. And I purposely picked a fixer-upper. This is my grieving project.”
Initially, Terry’s choice gave Schley a major pause. “When I first drove to the house, I was instantly concerned that it would be difficult to make it into the home she’d imagined. It was much smaller than her previous residence, had a warren of rooms that needed natural light, and needed to be opened and reconfigured,” she recalls. Adds Williger, “Terry had real faith that a different vision could be executed.”
But first, Schley helped her friend discover her style. She had Terry, admittedly a design newbie, page through dozens of decor magazines and books, sticking Post-it notes on any photo that resonated. “It was such great advice—if you like something, point to it,” the homeowner says. When they reviewed the images, Schley was amazed at how easily a pattern emerged: Terry naturally gravitated to the style of the South of France. It was an illuminating moment. “One of the places my husband and I visited there was a place called La Bastide de Marie,” she says. “I loved it, but I’d never thought of it as a style of architecture or design.”
As a complete teardown of the existing home would have resulted in lost square footage, Williger opted to take it down to the studs and enhance the structure, working with general contractor Kevin Babineau on the project. Most dramatically, the architect took advantage of unused attic space to lift and vault nearly every ceiling, drawing the eye upward with reclaimed barnwood beams. A patio oddly indented into the living room of the original home was squared off in the renovation, and a loggia was added outside. The pool was rebuilt, pushed back and lengthened. The cramped kitchen was recast into an open space with an adjacent dining area crowned with a truss-and-beam ceiling.
A new entry tower, which adds to the home’s footprint, makes a statement as does the gravel-paved formal motor court. Landscape architect Dana White layered in fruitless olive trees and plants that lean dark green and gray. “I wanted to bring in that old-world, European feel,” says White. Aged materials, from the exposed hand-hewn beams to the use of stonework and antique tile, bestow texture, character and French Provincial charm everywhere; blue is practically the sole accent color, a vivid inner ode to the ocean. And most importantly, large windows frame the unobstructed sea-and-sky views—epitomized by three stunning floor-to-ceiling glass doors in the master bedroom that stack open, allowing Terry to step out of bed and dive right into her pool. “The transformation is phenomenal,” the architect says. “Essentially, this is a brand-new house, inside and out.”
The designer, whose friendship with Terry became even closer during the project, pushed for a pared-down feel overall: nothing shiny, nothing frilly, nothing cluttered. “I think what I brought to this project was simplicity,” she says. “I wanted it more monastic than done-up. I wanted it to convey strength and warmth, to be bright, open and comfortable—that’s what she needs now. This is the antithesis of a retirement home. It’s a revival home.”
Terry concurs: “My husband and I loved our original home; we never planned on moving. But I know he would understand and would love this one, too,” she says. “This was the right decision.”