Several years ago, the mother-daughter design team of Laura Pavlovich and Ashley Armour walked into John Nelson Antiques in Los Angeles and happened upon a stunning series of painted Chinese panels. “We absolutely loved them—the colors, the scale, the details,” says Pavlovich, “so we kept a photograph in hopes that one day we would have just the right home to place them in.”
That perfect house turned out to be the newly acquired San Diego abode of a couple, who—though they resided in California for many years—had lived abroad and traveled extensively. “Just like us, our clients absolutely fell in love when they saw the panels, and they became the complete springboard for the project,” says Pavlovich. “Since the owners have been to so many exotic places yet chose California as their home, we felt we needed to not go with just one look.”
Instead, the four panels infuse a lively Asia-meets-California feel that extends throughout the house. The design duo placed them in the elegant living room, where they now anchor the space. Joining them are a custom- made camelback sofa and a pair of graceful chairs that offer a comfortable place to admire the panoramic views from the windows. From their spot behind the sofa, matching vintage Murano lamps seemingly float in the sky. Between them, in a place of honor, sits a reproduction of a Tang Dynasty pottery horse wearing a string of beads as a necklace. “Our clients have a great sense of humor,” says Pavlovich of the spontaneous embellishment the horse sports. “The wife used to ride, so we joked that it’s now her horse.”
Capturing the ease of indoor-outdoor California living was of prime importance to the couple in their ultra-private Mediterranean-style abode. The open floor plan, designed and built by Ed Prentice of Prentice Construction, allowed Pavlovich and Armour to maximize the effect of light and create seamless transitions to the outdoors. “The architectural style and details capture many elements of a true Spanish Colonial home, like those built by George Washington Smith,” says Pavlovich. “He was one of the first California architects to conceive the relationship between the home and the gardens, and that’s what this house does.”
Retractable glass doors in both the kitchen and the great room allow the spaces to flow out onto a covered loggia, while the colors outside inspire the design within. The natural palette of serene blues and neutral shades is visible in the kitchen and elegantly woven throughout the house. “The view was the jumping-off point for our palette,” says Armour. “Our clients wanted to bring the outdoors in, and we wanted to do the same.” Warm white cabinetry plays off a tile backsplash in a soft gray shade (rather than the traditional subway style, this tile has pointed ends, giving a subtle zip of shape), and the large marble-topped island features a similar hue. A whimsical antique French grotesque mask wall fountain on the custom hood greets visitors. “The husband is passionate about cooking,” says Pavlovich, “and one of his favorite elements is the mask. You look up, and it makes you smile.”
To enjoy the marvelous food the husband prepares, the couple requested a functional dining room. The designers brought in a custom table, which is just the right size for friends and family to gather around. Cane chairs accented with crackled lacquer and gold penwork surround the table. While they lend a sophisticated element to the space, they’re also comfortable enough to encourage guests to linger long after dinner is over. Along the wall, a mahogany console showcases a pair of antique cranes repurposed as lamps, and artwork featuring Chinese junks, from the clients’ own collection, add interest to the wall. “Everything is beautifully crafted and well made. It’s gracious, inviting and comfortable,” says Pavlovich.
In a bold move, the clients opted to forgo window treatments in many of the rooms, except for the master bedroom, where simple draperies hang. A custom carpet incorporating the soothing blues used throughout the house is the room’s foundation—Pavlovich and Armour had it woven to the exact specifications of the room, fulfilling the clients’ request for wall-to-wall carpet. There, it joins a mix of gracious antiques, new designs and meaningful mementos, such as the carved bedside lamps the clients brought home from Asia. “It reminds them of a time when they were living in Hong Kong,” says Pavlovich, “and how they carried them through the streets.”
After working together for the past three years, Armour and Pavlovich bring a harmonic collaboration to projects, and they heartily approve the idea that two minds are better than one. “We complement each other very much,” says Pavlovich. “Being of a different generation, she has a fresh perspective, and we work well together.” Adds Armour, “I don’t call it work, I call it play.”