One look at designer Raili Clasen’s spaces–bold and singular, yet SoCal cool and approachable–and you can see how her previous career in the surf-fashion industry has shaped her aesthetic. Surfboards stand as vertical sculptures, signs and lettering pack a punch as art, and plentiful sunlight plays prominently. “Boldness always won with graphics, typography and scale,” says Clasen of the lessons she learned from her days in the fashion world where she held corporate positions at Quiksilver and Paul Frank. “That has stayed with me in each and every project. The first thing that comes to mind in the design process is, ‘How can we make this cooler, better, more special?’”
So, for a Newport Beach residence for clients Heather and Chris Lewis, Clasen teamed up with frequent collaborator architect Eric Olsen to create a home that is “light, bright and fun inside.” The couple, who have three young children, had admired the design duo’s work on other projects. “They wanted that look, which is a lot of personality, touches of whimsy but unique–not a traditional Newport style,” says the designer.
When it came to the new construction, the homeowners requested a modern, California-type of home–“like it could be settled on a landscape in Napa,” says Olsen. The gabledroof house, made of painted-wood siding, rustic Texas limestone and burnished stucco, is a single-story profile at the front but expands to two stories at the rear. “When you have different masses done with different materials, it looks like it has come together over time,” says the architect, who worked with general contractor Luke Showalter on the project. Adds Showalter: “Eric does a great job of bringing volume to spaces, so it’s got really high ceilings and feels really open.”
Also key for the homeowners was a plan that would allow for easy flow, clear sight lines and an airy feel. An L-shaped layout provided the open connections the couple was seeking and helped direct movement through the space. The common living areas and three kids’ bedrooms are on the main level while the master suite is upstairs. To keep an eye on the kids, Olsen says, “They wanted the house shaped in such a way that there was a physical and visual connection to the yard and pool from essentially every room in the house.” As such, the two living spaces on the main level–the livingdining-kitchen area on one arm of the L and the playroom on the other–open via pocket doors to the yard and pool, so views are clear from interior to exterior, as well as from the living area to the playroom across the yard. French doors in the living area’s street side open onto a patio. With both sets of doors open, the space is drenched in sunlight, a feature that Clasen couldn’t help but take advantage of. “I love when we’re working with so much natural light,” she says, “because that means we can use dark stain and dark paint,” including the deep navy she chose for the kitchen cabinetry. “In a dark room, it can get too moody, but in a room flooded with sunlight, it’s more comfortable,” she says.
Clasen incorporated more signature dramatic elements throughout. Take, for instance, the giant Swiss cross sign that’s bolted to the wall in the dining area. “I wanted to do something big and graphic,” she says. The best way to make it pop was to hang it on a light background, so she went with white paint for the wood siding along the kitchen-dining wall. In heavy contrast, navy anchors the lower cabinetry and the island base, and sets up the living area. There, a giant white-canvas sectional offsets a pair of black-leather chairs in wood frames. “That was really all the color we wanted to get in there,” says Clasen, “so we wanted to punch it up with leather and wood as the accent tones.”
This strong palette–navy, black, shades of white, and neutrals in the form of leather and wood–continues throughout the house. Another graphic sign provides a striking feature in the entry, dark-hued cabinetry mutes the kids’ playroom and large-scale floral wallpaper wraps the master bath, with the slightest hints of pink, blue and green adding a soft flourish. The color scheme continues outside, where black chairs and natural wood tables create multiple seating and dining vignettes under a trellis, also in a dark tone. To complete the look, landscape designer Chris Fenmore installed artificial turf around the pool. “They wanted durability,” she says. “Plants in sturdy, simple pots added the layering we needed, and we installed some large cactus to give the yard a sense of time.”
“They are super happy with it,” Clasen says of the couple’s response. “When the windows are all open, the adults can have all these venues to have a drink and sit, and the kids can play and run around out back.” All around, it’s a vision realized. “It’s a fun, comfortable and easy house,” says Olsen. “The end product really reflects the family, which is what we were going for.”