Interior designer Raili Clasen’s professional motto is “great design—with a wink.” That spirit factors heavily into the new Corona del Mar home she conceived for her Silicon Valley-based clients. “This was always going to be a second home for a family with three active little boys,” she says. “Their home in Northern California is much more, shall we say, ‘serious,’ and I really wanted to push the envelope and give them a place they could come and put their feet up and relax, without for a minute sacrificing the things that would achieve the level of design they wanted.”
The family hired architect Cynthia Childs to design their new place on a 45-foot lot just a few houses from the ocean. “At the very beginning of the project, they were thinking of a transitional style of architecture,” Childs recalls. “After meeting them and seeing their fun, smart, talented selves, I knew I could be a bit more edgy and creative with the home. We pushed the envelope a bit and each step of the way they were open and considered lots of possibilities.”
To that end, Childs and general contractor Matt McClure crafted a home that marries timeless elements of design, like the painted white brick on the exterior, with contemporary ones, like the steel windows. She meticulously designed the structure to have indentations along the sides, allowing each room to boast windows or glass doors on two walls, rather than one. “I wanted there to be a real sense of natural light in this home, which is why we have an interior courtyard as well. The abundant light lends to the relaxed, indoor-outdoor feel that we were after all along.” As an added bonus, the interior courtyard also allows for more private outdoor living.
Meanwhile, when it came to outfitting the home, Clasen used Australian beach houses as her muse. “The Australians have this great way of delivering coastal vibes, but the architecture and the finishes are still quite modern,” she says. Clasen studied that look and thoughtfully furnished the spaces with finishes and accessories that delivered an effect of similar stylish ease, with a minimalist materials palette of white walls, natural wood and black steel. “I wanted everything to talk to each other in the main spaces,” explains the interior designer. “That’s why I put the same steel windows on the upper cabinets in the kitchen that appear on the exterior of the house. We tried to have design elements that have a ‘friend’ in each space, whether it was a hit of color or a repeat of fabric.”
The wood elements—like the walnut floors, the plank beams in the ceiling and the walnut paneling throughout—warm the crisp white walls and soften the industrial elements. Clasen used color sparingly but made an impression when she did, from the olive green in the sitting room to the shades of blue in the watercolor mural in the primary bedroom. “The family gave me a lot of freedom when it came to some of these ‘aha’ moments in the house,” she says, pointing to the powder room with a print that proclaims, “I like it. What is it?” or the bright blue sink in the downstairs bath. Clasen even worked a surprise “hello” into the front Dutch door—the word is carved into the wood.
In the same way, light fixtures—like the wide, nautical pendant over the kitchen island, the cascading pendants in the dining room, and the airy lights in the playroom—deliver an element of surprise against the backdrop of right angles and clean lines. Clasen custom-designed nearly every piece of furniture to be refined but never austere, to invite more lounging than looking. “Nothing is off-limits for the boys. There’s meant to be a flow from one room to the next—and from inside to outside. When all the doors are open, the family and their many friends come and go, in and out, and there’s nothing so precious about the spaces that they can’t be used by everyone.”
One of the most cherished spaces is the outdoor living room, a space Childs calls a modern beach home’s version of a gracious Southern front porch. “They are out here all the time, and because there’s plenty of foot traffic on the street, they can people watch, or invite friends up for a drink. It’s quite a fun spot.”
And when the family wants a more secluded place to congregate—but still wants to enjoy the southern California climate—they gather around the table that anchors the interior courtyard. It was here that Clasen left a not-so-subtle reminder to her clients: a graphic artwork that spells P-L-A-Y. “Every wall, every corner, every piece of art—it was all about who they are as a family and the joy we hoped this house would bring to them,” she says with a smile.