When designer Amy Oppedisano sent us her latest residential project and asked if we’d like to feature it, I couldn’t type YES fast enough. I will always be a fan of neutral minimal homes (even though I am more of a self-proclaimed maximalist nowadays) because it’s the style that sparked my love for design and from experience I know it’s not an easy style to achieve. In case you aren’t familiar, Amy’s signature minimalist-California-casual style is warm and elevated (as seen on this blog here and here) but what I love most about her designs is they are never without a ton of soul and charm. So today, instead of simply sharing what I love about this home (which is A LOT), I wanted to chat with Amy directly about her design process and how she achieves this coveted style so flawlessly. Let’s get into it:
What were some of the challenges you came across while renovating?
During our first inspection with the city the inspector told us that our house essentially had no structural support and that one major earthquake could be catastrophic. The house is very old and apparently things were done quite differently when Laguna Beach was just a remote little village in the middle of nowhere! We brought in an engineer and ended up having to trench out the slab throughout the entire first level and pour fourteen new concrete footings. All of the exposed beams you see in the images are actually new and were part of the engineer’s plan to shore up our support. Oddly enough we felt like the new beams added to the overall “original” cottage vibe we were going for. While this added unexpected costs and time to our job, it ultimately helped us safely rework the floor plan while ensuring that this house will remain sturdy for decades to come. In a town where many homes are overlooked and considered “tear downs” I feel like our efforts and design work saved this incredible home by giving it a second life.
I love how the vaulted ceilings and wood beams give off a rustic cottage feel. Were they a design choice or something you had to work with?
The white beams (in the living room) are part of our aforementioned engineering “happy accident” and are not original, but we definitely feel like they look it! The design of those beams is entirely structural and was done by the engineer. We only added the finishing touch in deciding how to treat them afterwards. We debated on whether to paint them white or potentially treat them with a reclaimed wood wrap. Ultimately, we decided since they are somewhat intrusive into the spaces our best bet was to stick with white. Our goal with vaulting the ceilings was to “lift” them and make the rooms feel bigger, so in painting those beams white I think we maintained our goal there. The reclaimed wood beams in the dining room are essentially superficial and we added them to sort of “frame” out the dining room since there are no walls to differentiate it as its own space. We also liked the contrast of the reclaimed wood against the crisp white shiplap to continue marrying the cottage vibe with a modern aesthetic. We bought flat strips of old barnwood for those beams from US Reclaimed, the same place we bought the slab for the desk. Our contractor built a u-shaped box out of the strips to cover a piece of lumber that created the shape and structure of the superficial beams. For anyone who wants affordable reclaimed wood beams this is a great way to do it as the strips of barnwood cost much less than a solid reclaimed beam.
Were there any big changes to the original floorplan?
This home sat on the market for a very long time before we bought it, presumably due to a poorly functioning layout and design that made the rooms feel small and cramped. My husband is not a designer by trade, but we have renovated many homes together and he is a bit of a space planning savant. Together we reconfigured the kitchen, laundry room, main and two bathrooms to drastically upgrade the function of the layout. We also removed all interior walls in the living room, dining room and kitchen to turn the main living areas into an open concept. In the living room, guest bedroom and kid’s room we vaulted the ceilings to make the spaces feel larger and more open. Originally there was a second stairwell in the back of the house and by eliminating it we were able to add a second walk-in closet in the main bedroom as well as a huge walk-in pantry and wine room in the kitchen. The laundry room originally contained a second smaller “butler’s kitchen”. By eliminating that we were able to make a sizeable mudroom and laundry room with ample storage space that better suited our needs. In the kid’s room and game room we reconfigured the bathrooms by moving the doorways and reworking plumbing to give each a second sink and more functional layout. Most people who had seen this home before our remodel cannot believe it is the same house! As a designer, my number one tip for making a small space feel larger is to vault your ceilings if you can (just be sure to consult an engineer before you cut your joists!). This is such a simple way to add space visually, even if you cannot expand square footage.
The built-in wine cooler is stunning! What inspired the use of marble on the inside? And why did you choose a more dramatic veined marble instead of the kind used in the kitchen?
Here is my husband’s big design blog debut! While I wish I could take credit for it, this wine room was pretty much all him. From the outset of this project he wanted to figure out a way to work in a wine room with a dramatic marble. Since we had no real space for upper cabinets and had a very white palette, we loved the idea of adding some contrast with the wine room. We both fell in love with this dark slab he found at the marble yard and knew it fit our vision perfectly. We loved that the veining added drama and tied together the black & white palette we used throughout both the interior and exterior. It is now one of our favorite design elements of this home.
You mentioned the cabinetry in the laundry room has a unique story behind it. Can you tell us more about that?
Initially Laguna Beach was an artist’s colony and vacation enclave for many residents of Los Angeles. This neighborhood has seen many celebrities as part-time residents over the years, including Ozzie & Harriet Nelson. When their home was sold by their estate, the buyer had plans to tear it down, so each neighbor was gifted mementos from their home to keep the nostalgia alive. The original cabinets in our laundry room as well as a swinging door on a media closet we tore out had belonged to Ozzie & Harriet. Neighbors had many fun stories to tell about them and we kept these items in a craft room we set up under the garage for nostalgia’s sake.
It looks like there are a lot of built-in cabinets and shelves in the home! Was storage a concern when renovating? And how did you prioritize carving out storage space?
As evidenced by the neutral palette, I am a bit of a minimalist and I HATE clutter, so the cabinets were all added. When I design cabinetry for myself or a client, I take a full inventory of everything that will need to be stored and design according to that. I have received some very blank stares when asking clients “how many linear feet of plates do you own?” But I do find that if you plan ahead it is easy to keep your home organized and clutter free this way. If you are going to the expense of new cabinets, you might as well make them perfect! To keep the kitchen organized I installed rollouts, built in spice racks, and long vertical pullouts for sheet pans. One side of the island is made of deep drawers that keep items easier to see and access as opposed to traditional reach-in cabinets. The laundry room cabinets are set up so that each family member has a cupboard for bags, hats and jackets with their own dedicated shoe drawer beneath. In my kid’s room I took the closet slider out and created a built-in with hanging space on top and deep drawers below – this keeps their closet much more organized than giving them a giant open space to stuff things into. In my bathrooms I prefer vanities with drawers instead of cabinets, again it makes it so much easier to find things and to keep my kids less messy. We also added the small angled cabinet by the front door after we found a smidge of space hidden behind the drywall after demo. It is a perfect little spot for keys, umbrellas, sunglasses and extra items you need on your way out the door. If “Cabinet Storage Expert” is a job title I think I could qualify! 😉
What decisions were made in order to preserve the original cottage charm?
The house was built in 1941 and still contained many original elements – both good and bad! What I loved most were the original windows and after much begging I was able to convince my husband that we could repair the leaky spots and keep them. We also loved how this home had so many window benches. Those sort of built-in details in older construction feel very charming to me! We also kept the façade, the overall footprint of the house, the brick pathway in the front and the old brick chimneys original.
Were any of the renovation decisions made with Covid and stay-at-home orders in mind? I.E. making space for a home office, or carving out multifunctional spaces?
We completed most of our remodel before Covid, so no. That being said, the built-in desk in the kid’s room worked very well for Zoom school and the multiple seating areas throughout the house helped us to function with four people working and learning from home.
Do you have any general tips for designing a neutral home? Any tips for making a neutral home feel special?
A neutral palette is very calming to me and I find that texture is EVERYTHING when keeping color to a minimum. We used reclaimed wood on beams and fireplace mantles as well as shiplap on walls and ceilings throughout to add texture to the all-white paint palette. Marble brings a lot of depth and richness to a neutral space, so we opted for dramatic veiny slabs in the master bathroom, kitchen, and wine room. Layering natural woven textiles is one of my favorite ways to introduce luxurious texture to a neutral space. I love that Etsy easily connects me to makers all over the world for beautiful handmade items at affordable prices. Most of my favorite things are from Etsy! In this home chunky Turkish hemp pillows, soft fouta towels, handwoven African baskets, and handmade pottery pieces all add texture to the finishing touches while directly supporting small businesses and artisans. My good friend (and sometimes design partner) Sam Gluck makes the most beautiful embroidered artwork and tapestries. When I felt stumped by a very long, boring white wall in the dining room I enlisted her to do a series of neutral geometric embroidery pieces on scraps of vintage linen. These were the perfect way to add interest without color. I also look for pieces that can naturally patina with wear and tear – basically in my life that is a cuter way to say these items still look good after getting smothered by two kids and three dogs! Rustic wood pieces, distressed leathers, and cowhides are all durable textural options for families like mine who might be a “little rough” on things. Last, I always use a warmer wood tone in my neutral designs to keep the space from falling too cool or flat. In this home we opted for white oak flooring and millwork to warm up each room.
It’s a little hard to tell in photos, is that a built-in fireplace in the bedroom that also connects to the outdoor space??
Yes, it is! All of the fireplaces in the house are original so we kept them in place and just refurbished them a bit with paint and new doors. We have an amazing welder who built these doors as well as the doors for the patio fireplace and our iron stair railing. The doors were ultimately designed for safety around kids but also gave the fireplaces a finished look and a measure of continuity between exterior and interior. It is actually quite chilly living on the beach, so we use them a TON.
The house is very modern traditional but still has a cottage charm feel. How did you go about mixing the two styles?
I find that the neutral color palette combined with our vintage mid-century modern pieces help bridge the gap of old and new by marrying worn-in texture with modern silhouettes. Parisian design is a perfect example of this, the old apartments with parquet floors, ornate Baroque plaster painted white and Serge Mouille fixtures – that kind of decor really makes my heart sing! Most of my mid-century antiques were my grandmother’s – the Drexel bench, the mid-century lounger, and Russel Wright dishes were all things she got the year she got married. I was 11 years old when I asked her “can I have these when you die?”. Fortunately, she was not at all offended and was kind enough to give them to me when I graduated college and got my first apartment. I have toted these pieces with me to every place I have lived since and no matter how my style evolves, they always seem to work! As a designer I definitely get swayed into following trends here and there, but I consistently love a vintage collected aesthetic. I have always been drawn to the same muted color palette so even though Wedgewood plates and mid-century pieces are wildly different stylistically, the palette helps bring it all together.
I love how much marble is used throughout the space. What do you think the impact marble finishes can have in a home?
I am a bit of a marble junkie – I just love it and feel like it has a timeless appeal. Since this house is cottagey, we decided to do marble tiles in the baths but opted for modern shapes like herringbone and hexagon for an updated take on a classic style. I also like that marble adds so much depth and dimension to a neutral palette. I think for anyone looking to renovate a kitchen or bath you cannot go wrong with marble. I have never gotten tired of it or felt it was too trendy. In the kitchen, marble has a reputation for being “fussy”, but I think that is all perspective. So many of my vintage pieces are very imperfect– the mid-century furniture has scratches, nicks and dings, my vintage pottery has a few chips – and I think that just shows that they have been lived with and loved. I don’t want to own anything that is too precious to use. I love the way that marble in the kitchen wears the way it does. I cook daily and have never had an issue with staining, but we do get a decent amount of etching from water. A quick wipe and a little bit of bleach will lift a tomato sauce or wine stain, and I think that the etching evens out over time and adds to the charm. My favorite book growing up was the Velveteen Rabbit and I think of marble like that – perfection is overrated and items that show their imperfections and wear are more beautiful for it because it shows they were lived in and loved.
I must know where you sourced the live edge table! And how did you install it?
I’m so happy you love it! I was inspired by an image I had seen on Pinterest and found this gorgeous slab of wood at US Reclaimed in Laguna Niguel, CA. The owner of the shop sanded it down and removed the bark from the edge to ensure it is splinter-free for little fingers. Our contractor applied a very light stain with a slight gray hue over the top and then mounted it to the wall with metal brackets to keep it sturdy. This desk is part of a window nook, so the slab spans edge to edge and actually seats two so both kids can do their schoolwork together. We did not foresee the Covid lockdown during our remodel, but this desk certainly was put to good use once we began distance learning!
How did you go about designing and renovating the outdoor space? What materials were used? Was weather a factor in how you designed it?
Emily Henderson’s outdoor style heavily influenced this space! We painted the fence Sherwin Williams Iron Ore and aimed for a layered and textured feel with our choices in décor pieces. Since this house is at the beach it has a very indoor/outdoor lifestyle vibe. For that reason, we wanted the exterior of the home to feel like an extension of the inside. Through a similar color palette, and repetition of the fireplace doors and reclaimed wood beams from inside I think we achieved the continuity we were seeking. I also wanted this space to feel fun, so I went with a pop of pattern on the rug while the quirky face planter and tequila cart full of pretty painted bottles give it some personality. I pulled in texture with the rug, pillows and rattan coffee table to keep it from feeling flat or boring. The hanging planters are such a small detail, but I absolutely love them! This patio is completely covered so weather was not a huge concern, but the rug is specifically an outdoor rug since the floor can get some water runoff when it rains. We sit in this patio nightly as it is one of our favorite spaces in the home. We tiled the patio and walkway in a natural limestone because we wanted the hardscape to mirror the warm tone of the wood flooring inside the house. My husband designed all of the landscaping himself, and again stuck to a fairly neutral color palette blending modern succulents with wispy grasses. The grasses sway in the wind all day and give the yard so much life through motion, which is one of my favorite things about the landscape design. That huge fiddle fig around the base of the palm tree was already there when we bought the house and I am so mesmerized by it – mostly because I have never been able to keep a fiddle fig alive and this one is just LIVING all by itself with zero interference. I’ve no idea how to please those fickle guys, but apparently hugging palms is their jam.
There you have it. Huge thanks to Amy for her insightful answers but before you go, you MUST see the shocking before and afters:
I don’t know about you, but I am very inspired to start decluttering immediately. Minimalism is alive and well, my friends, as this home tour most certainly proves. Thanks again to Amy for allowing us to showcase her work and for answering all my questions about this incredible home. Until next time. xx