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Warm and Inviting California Villa

Calling on modern élan to freshen up the Mediterranean-inspired architecture of a Southern California house, an interior designer finds just he right balance between old-world charm and contemporary stylings.

Written by Sarah Egge
  • Ed Gohlich

    Not many people can shift from a sleek, glass-encased, architect-designed house shaped like a sphere to a homey Mediterranean-style villa in one swift move.

    But for Joanie O’Leary, it was a heartfelt change. Recently widowed, Joanie wanted something different. “It was the first house I bought by myself, for myself,” she says. “And I had a clean slate. The people who bought my old house bought everything down to the sheets and the towels. All I took with me was my artwork and personal photos.” 

    Photography: Ed Gohlich
    Produced by Karen Reinecke

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    Welcoming Entrance

    Built 10 years ago in a Mediterranean style, Joanie’s new house features Venetian plaster walls, wood-clad ceilings, and a host of French doors. It felt warm and inviting to Joanie—just right for sharing with her dogs, her visiting daughter and grandsons, and her girlfriends. Yet she didn’t feel she had to leave the past behind entirely.

    At the house’s entrance, Ayers created a smooth, welcoming approach by replacing uneven stepping stones with a reclaimed-brick courtyard designed to highlight the sculptural quality of the olive tree.

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    Gorgeous Gate

    “The house is cozy, but it’s also open and airy,” she says. So much so that Joanie decided to carry her love of contemporary style and her modern art collection into this new phase of her life. She simply asked interior designer Becky Ayers to make it feel natural within the architecture’s roots.

    A newly installed set of fretwork doors creates a sense of transition from the public front garden to private inner spaces. 

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    Front Door

    Moving from a modern home designed by architect Ken Ronchetti that was almost all glass, Joanie appreciated this house’s many light-inviting doors and windows, and the easy transitions from indoors to out.  

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    Living Area

    “The goal was to do what was right for the house but keep in mind Joanie’s leanings,” Ayers says. “So we kept to the theme that this is a traditional Mediterranean-style house, but we furnished it with pieces that have really clean lines.”

    The hand-planed, distressed oak console table behind the sectional suits Joanie’s desire for light-toned, simplified furnishings. Ayers added sconces, a hefty wood mantel, and iron grills to the cabinet doors to beef up the fireplace and use it as a focal point feature for displaying artwork.  

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    Mediterranean Kitchen

    A custom chandelier over the kitchen island showcases Ayers’ strategy: The geometric angles of the wrought-iron frame are crisp and contemporary, while the seeded-glass panes, made by a local artisan, give it old-world flair.

    A mate to the chandelier over the outdoor dining table, this fixture crowns a revamped island, which previously had a more traditional feel. “The island was red, had turned posts at the corners, and a top with a scalloped edge,” Ayers says. “We cleaned it up to make it simpler.” The top is a single slab of walnut. “That wood countertop is like a work of art,” Joanie says. 

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    Copper Range Hood

    The home already had a lot of architectural character when Ayers started working with Joanie, but irregular building features and several different wood stains conflicted with each other, making spaces appear visually busy. To lessen the number of wood tones, Ayers painted cabinets a warm ivory and finished them with an antique glaze.

    A substantial copper hood, newly painted-and-glazed cabinets, and Moroccan-inspired backsplash tiles move the kitchen in a decidedly Mediterranean direction. Ayers repeated the design of iron grills in the kitchen cabinet doors, flanking the living room fireplace, and as a gate outside to build a consistency.

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    Pretty Sink

    A hammered-copper apron-front sink plays off other old-world metals in the kitchen, including oil-rubbed bronze and wrought iron. 

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    Cabinet Details

    To create cohesion between indoors and out, she added iron gates to exterior entrances and door grilles to some interior cabinets. The designer also commissioned a congruous suite of iron light fixtures that flows from inside to out.

    Ayers chose a local artisan to make the iron filigree pattern and worked with Joanie to devise a pattern that wouldn’t be too frilly.

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    Octagonal Dining Room

    Ayers further played to the home’s Mediterranean influences by using tile in a quatrefoil shape—which is often seen in Spanish and Moroccan architecture—in azure and maize hues for the kitchen backsplash. Ayers repeated the motif in the etched privacy glass in the master bath and in a chandelier.

    For the octagon-shape dining space, “the oval table was the starting point,” Ayers says. To accommodate Joanie’s family gatherings, she chose an alder-wood top and put it on a stone pedestal base. “No legs means she can seat more people,” Ayers says. Textural layers—from the silk and linen draperies to the cane chairs to the sisal rug—add spark to the elegant monochromatic palette.

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    Look at me Glow

    Pieces of agate in this tiered chandelier glow warmly when lit at night. 

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    Sitting Area

    These subtle embellishments updated the house without straying too far from its origins. Ayers then delivered a calm, modern mood with natural linen slipcovered furnishings and walls painted a pale cream—a hue that amplifies sunlight and provides a serene canvas for brightly colored paintings. The end result is a welcome change of style that still feels like home to Joanie.

    This seating area is deceptively sophisticated: The table rises on a hydraulic lift to card-table height so Joanie can play Go Fish with her grandsons. A television pops out of the cabinet and swivels to face the family room on the other side or these comfy linen-covered chairs. “That’s where my friends and I sit to watch the Academy Awards,” she says. 

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    Outdoor Dining

    Accessed through French doors in the family room, this covered terrace is perfect for gatherings with homeowner Joanie O’Leary’s young grandsons: the cotton slipcovers are washable and the teak table weathers naturally. Designer Becky Ayers extended the entertaining area beyond by adding built-in seating around a fire pit. “That’s my girlfriends place,” Joanie says. “We light it up, make martinis, and have a great time.”

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    Rock Away

    A line of contemporary iron rockers is a lively counterpoint to the Mediterranean architecture. “They’re woven from sail rope and they’re so comfortable,” Joanie says. “See! I got my contemporary in there but it’s not in your face.” 

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    Shaded Terrace

    With the feel of a Majorca getaway, a teak daybed invites napping on this terrace, which is thickly shaded by bougainvillea vines. 

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    Lighting with Character

    Wrought-iron sconces with seeded glass panes have the old-world feel that suits the stucco exterior. 

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    Master Bedroom

    Blue and gold accent hues are carried throughout the house, but in the master bedroom, they play a more powerful role. “We put a white rug in there to begin with,” Joanie says, “but the blue one seems warmer to me.” Its denim tones balance the dark wood ceiling, and they’re repeated in the weathered finish of the custom-made bedside chest. 

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    Master Bathroom

    “I wanted the bath to be girly and serene, and I had a Moorish design in mind,” Joanie says. So Ayers had the wood-stained cabinets painted to meld with natural stone tiles and mottled plaster walls. The chandelier’s quatrefoil pattern is also seen in the design of the etched privacy glass in the windows. 

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