There are some exciting things happening in the design world over in California, and these chilled-out vibes are well suited to how we live in Australia. This look is laid-back and effortless. We’re talking exposed timber rafters, a knockout vintage armchair, earthy ceramics, slouchy jute baskets and classic mid-century lighting. Don’t forget a guitar in one corner of the room, and a surfboard in the other. We may not be rockstars or pro-surfers, but at least in our home, we can be!
California was known for the very popular ‘Hollywood Regency’ style a few years ago, which was a coordinated look of shiny metallic, blue velvet and bold geometric rugs… but today we’re seeing something quite different. The ‘Californian Cool’ look is more relaxed, comfortable and breezy. However, we are still in Hollywood folks, so there are a few touches of luxury.
It’s the element of the unexpected that adds the cool factor. The combinations that create a bit of tension and excitement, such as a Victorian upholstered chair next to a contemporary lamp, or an abstract artwork alongside a traditional turned wood dining setting.
Cool Californian Colours
Walls are generally kept fresh and white, allowing for natural materials such as timber, leather and stone to add colour. So, if colour is your thing, stop reading now. Actually, keep reading. (This is my first article for The Design Files so please, stay with me!). Whilst walls tend not to be painted in bold hues, there are colourful moments to enjoy – usually in the form of textiles, rugs, artwork or feature lighting.
The most important colour to add, though, is black. This adds the cool factor, and without it, you may end up with shabby chic or country style.
The absence of colour in this look is more than compensated with gorgeous texture. Timber tabletops with a grain you can feel, wicker furniture, organic ceramic shapes that show evidence of having been made with human hands.
One cannot talk about ‘Californian Cool’ without mentioning the Queen of Californian Design, Kelly Wearstler. Her incredible interiors are loaded with contrasting texture and shape, but not necessarily bold colour. And they’re definitely not boring!
To get Californian Cool, you’ll need at least one statement chair, and if you can invest in a design classic you will never regret it.
Look for something preferably in black or tan leather, or natural linen. If it’s a minimal vintage chair or a classic design then you’re already halfway there. A rattan or wicker chair with a sheepskin over it is a relaxed option too.
Sofas should firstly be comfortable and inviting, however they are usually white, or not too many shades from it. Since white isn’t the most practical colour to live with, consider using an outdoor fabric with a linen look, and use a throw over the seat, which only adds to the casual look.
Bridging the indoors and outdoors
Californian style resonates so well with us in Australia as we love to live outdoors. Think large glazing looking out onto a spectacular view, and huge sliding doors that open onto a courtyard that doubles as another living room.
If all else fails, bring the trees inside the house. A tall tree inside makes a big statement and totally changes the atmosphere of the room.
There are ALWAYS indoor plants in Californian homes. Cluster a few small plants together in wicker baskets or ceramic pots of a similar colour.
Who said that an effortless look was easy?
A space that feels so relaxed, comfortable and kind of thrown together, is often anything but. If you’re struggling for that ‘effortless’ look, start with an easy project – accessories. Collect handmade ceramic vessels and pots in varying shapes but similar colours, to cluster on a shelf or mantle.
Place a few baskets on the floor and if they are a bit wonky, that’s great. The look is to see evidence of made by hand. (Baskets are also so handy to use as planters or storage).
The materials should be REAL. Real leather not vinyl, real stone not engineered stone and real timber not laminate. So although this looks super casual, it can be an expensive look to pull off.
On the walls, macramé is perfect for this casual look, search for vintage options, or make your own, if so inclined. Just make sure it’s a natural colour.
When selecting artwork, keep the colour to a minimum, or just stick to black and white. Find artwork of a black line drawing and you’re onto a winner.
The most authentic Californian cool accessory has to be a surfboard casually leaning against a wall. Interior by Brittney Borjeson of Evoke The Spirit as featured in Surf Shack by Nina Freudenberger. Photo – Brittany Ambridge,
‘I would argue the most important colour to add is black’ Lauren says. ‘This adds the cool factor and without it, you may end up with shabby chic or country style.’ The home of Heather Tierney in Venice California, as featured in Surf Shack by Nina Freudenberger. Photo – Brittany Ambridge.
‘Californian style resonates so well with us in Australia,’ tells Lauren. Interior by Alexander Design. Photo – Shade Degges.
The outdoors comes indoors with a playful swing! Interior by Alexander Design. Photo – Shade Degges.
The Californian Cool look is smartened up by an elegant wall lamp, with the Serge Mouille wall lamp a clear favourite. Interior by Alexander Design. Photo – Tessa Neaustadt.
Can it get any more authentic than a 1963 Mid-Century LA home like this? The original wood paneling and the smooth patina of the original brick floor contrasted with the white shag carpet. Let those vintage records play. Interior by Reath Design. Photo – Laure Joliet.
This space is so cool that they don’t need to style their bookcase. It’s the perfect blend of style and life happening together. Interior by Reath Design. Photo – Laure Joliet.
When the surfboard is out at the beach, then a skateboard leaning against the wall will do too! There is a sense of playfulness and youth in this interior by Trip Haenisch, however, the iconic Wassily leather chair keeps it from looking immature. This house belongs to Chris McMillan, a celebrity hairstylist (we can thank him for ‘The Rachel’ hairstyle). Photo – Sam Frost.
White hot! A very cool house in California, as featured in Surf Shack by Nina Freudenberger. Interior by Maria McManus and Mark Gibson. Photo – Brittany Ambridge.