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Oasis by the Sea

This article was written by Blake Miller and was featured in our July issue of Home By Design magazine. Photography by Kerri Fukui at @japanese_hair_farmer. To visit the original Home By Design article, click here.


Up and down the Santa Monica, California coastline homes dot the cliffs and hills, towering over white-sand beaches. Many of the original houses have been razed and modern manses erected in their place, erasing some of the charm that makes Malibu, Malibu. Modern dwellings seem to have become the norm here. But for one homeowner, finding that needle in a haystack home that wasn’t brand-new and still maintained its original early twentieth-century charm was a high priority while house hunting. So when he found a nearly untouched 2,000-square-foot, circa-1940s cottage with sweeping water views, he knew he had to have it.

After purchasing the cottage, the homeowner enlisted the interior design branch of City Home Collective to help renovate the home into a cozy, relaxed but ultimately elegant and sophisticated beach cottage while still maintaining its historic charm. “This home is a beacon of coolness and originality,” says Helena Morozoff, designer director with City Home Collective. “We wanted to play that up instead of completely tearing the home down. The client did not want to raze this home. Our firm values authenticity and originality so we also wanted to be conscientious of updating the home but keeping its classic architectural details and aesthetic.”

To help maintain the architectural integrity of the cottage, the original cedar-shake facade remained. “We wanted to preserve this beautiful siding but we also knew we needed to update the home,” says Morozoff. The design team restored the windows and painted them black while also adding details throughout the exterior that instantly elevated the look and style of the home. “We started with the cedar siding as inspiration and brought in black trim and copper accents to make the structure of the cottage pop,” she says. “In order to create more of a contrast overall, we wanted to create a frame that would highlight the beach and these views. That high-gloss black trim really bridges the interiors and exteriors.”

Similarly, the interior was originally very dark and felt closed in with low ceilings and dark finishes. “What he was looking for was a bright space that feels fresh, feels rejuvenating, that highlights the phenomenal views,” says Morozoff. “The interiors needed to be a backdrop that highlights those incredible views. Even the way the floor plan was laid out did not highlight that open and airy space vibe. That was one of the first things we had to alter: remove walls and open up spaces and allow for the interiors to become airy, vibrant, and light. By removing those, we were able to create larger spaces that had shared functions. But it also allowed for a lot more light and resulted in this much brighter, more expansive interior that was so much more dramatic and beautiful than what we were working with.”

The interior design built off that with a neutral, all-white color palette with black trim architectural details. The palette, with varying shades of cream and white, coupled with natural wood finishes became the base for the entire design scheme, which looked to texture for added interest.

The homeowner, a single man, did not want the home to scream “bachelor pad.” Instead he “wanted an aesthetic that skewed masculine but without an overuse of dark leather and finishes,” says Morozoff. The designer looked to an array of alternating textures to achieve a coastal vibe that still felt masculine in its core without being over the top. Wool blends, chunky textures, natural sheepskins, and, of course, warm woods [such as a combination of white oak and bamboo] helped to achieve this aesthetic. “Making sure all the materials were natural woods [and] cozy, textural fabrics really helped accentuate that beach-house vibe,” explains Morozoff. “All of the selections were carefully curated and chosen because they’re easy to maintain but also have this level of casual elegance. At the heart of it, it was a juxtaposition between a casual, relaxed feeling but at the same time making it handsome and masculine.”

Ultimately, the home was transformed from a dark and somewhat dated cottage into a relaxing oasis by the sea. Simple changes to some of the original architectural details coupled with opening up rooms to enhance water views and provide breathing room resulted in just the modern space the homeowner had been looking for. “The materials used, opening up the space, playing with the lighting, and changing the color palette helped significantly alter that dark, old English cottage feel that was there before,” says Morozoff. “It’s now such a standout property.”