A California House that Breaks the Design Rules

Designer Caitlin Moran tossed out her own professional playbook to decorate her Marin County home

An abstract artwork by Jaime Angelopoulos is displayed prominently in the living room over a sofa covered in a Casamance textile. 
An abstract artwork by Jaime Angelopoulos is displayed prominently in the living room over a sofa covered in a Casamance textile. 
Vintage chairs in Carolina Irving fabric.
Vintage chairs in Carolina Irving fabric.

Measure twice, cut once. And if you forget to measure at all?  Just cross your fingers and hope it fits. That was Caitlin Moran’s strategy when she decided to buy a massive, showstopping painting at Art Basel before confirming it would actually fit on her living room wall. Given her reputation as a stickler for detail in the dozens of interior projects she has executed for clients, this cover-your-eyes-and-jump approach was out of character for Moran, but it wouldn’t be the only time she flaunted her own rules. The designer was surprised to find that when it came to decorating her home, a 1970s ranch in the Northern California enclave of Tiburon, she followed a different set of directives entirely.

Designer and homeowner Caitlin Moran. 
Designer and homeowner Caitlin Moran. 
A California House that Breaks the Design Rules

“This was a much messier process than working with clients,” says Moran. “I had hundreds of pieces and dozens of styles that I liked. It was enough to give me an identity crisis.” Figure in the house’s own flamboyant personality—there had been only one owner since 1971 and everything was original, from the shag carpet to the linoleum to the macramé potholders—and even this seasoned design professional was unsure of where to start.

Pattern and color are two of Moran's great loves, as seen here in (from far left) a pillow from Sue Fisher King, a color-coded bookshelf, and a chinoiserie lamp.
Pattern and color are two of Moran's great loves, as seen here in (from far left) a pillow from Sue Fisher King, a color-coded bookshelf, and a chinoiserie lamp.

So she did something she rarely advises her clients to do: she worked on one room at a time (as opposed to thinking big-picture from the beginning) and often let a single beloved piece or a swatch of fabric guide the design of each space. “The risk of working that way is that the house can end up being overly eclectic,” admits Moran, who became enamored with a black-and-white textile from Casamance and used it as the jumping-off point for her living room. She covered a long, low vintage sofa in the fabric, and the rehabbed piece soon sparked a flurry of new ideas. “I love bright colors and had rarely worked with black. But this textile set something off in me, and before I knew it, I had a living room with a black-and-white palette.”

Still, the scheme is anything but basic; throw pillows feature a playful mix of patterns flecked with pinks and blues, and a pair of ottomans sport a magenta motif. The artwork over the sofa (the aforementioned Art Basel purchase) is an eye-catching abstraction by Canadian artist Jaime Angelopoulos, in which strokes of yellow, pink, and blue play off a nebulous black mass. (The added bonus of using black in a high-traffic space? It stands up admirably to Moran’s three-year-old daughter and nine-month-old twin boys.)

The dining room is visible from the living room, so although the two spaces are strikingly different in color and style, they play well with each other. Here the stylistic guiding star was an oversize coconut-shell chandelier from Made Goods. “It had that ’70s vibe, so it felt right in the house,” says Moran. “Plus, I just plain fell in love with it.” Classic curved-back, cantilevered chairs in an era-appropriate rattan surround a sturdy dining table, the site of both messy art projects and memorable dinner parties. Tableware, linens, and paintings by Jenny Andrews Anderson provide the vibrant pops in this room, where Moran went consciously neutral for the walls and furnishings. “With the kids and all their stuff, there’s enough color in here to go around.”

From far left, Mottahedeh's Tobacco Leaf pattern, a pair of paintings by Jenny Andrews Anderson, and a Heath Ceramics backsplash.
From far left, Mottahedeh's Tobacco Leaf pattern, a pair of paintings by Jenny Andrews Anderson, and a Heath Ceramics backsplash.

The open kitchen gave Moran yet another opportunity to stray from her standard practice. “Most of my clients ask for all-white kitchens, but I wanted something more moody,” she says, referring to the dark Heath Ceramics tile backsplash that, like a sullen teenager, changes character depending on the time of day. “It goes from a dark forest blue to teal to deep charcoal.” The cabinets are a bleached oak, and the same wood and modern moldings show up in the master bath—proof that despite each room’s fierce aesthetic independence, there are some common threads.

A daybed in the nursery of Moran's twin sons.
A daybed in the nursery of Moran's twin sons.
A California House that Breaks the Design Rules

And as for keeping to the right side of eclecticism? “It’s all about editing,” says Moran, who has no problem being ruthless in her work projects. “But editing yourself is much more complicated. It’s a totally different process.” What she’s learned, however, is that sometimes it pays to break the rules. “So much of my house is an opportunity to be around what inspires me, such as color or textiles drawn from other cultures. My advice would be: don’t be afraid of decorating with what you love.”

A California House that Breaks the Design Rules
TIPS FROM THIS HOME TOUR

Here’s what designer Caitlin Moran learned from designing for herself.

 

  • PICK ART WITH YOUR HEART

    “Let the art find you,” counsels Moran. “It’s better to have a blank wall for a while and find something that you’re absolutely in love with.”

  • CONSIDER THE DINING ROOM YOUR CANVAS

    “The space can be dressed up in different ways depending on the occasion and the season. I like to create a subtle base and then add on with tableware, art, and flowers.”

  • MIX PATTERNS LIKE A PRO

    “I don’t have a formula, but I instinctively look to color theory—which colors complement each other—and then let my gut [dictate] the rest.”

  • GET REAL IN THE KITCHEN

    “There’s no way I was going to have high-maintenance marble in the kitchen—I have three kids and cook regularly. So I went with a Basaltina countertop. It’s super-tough, and the darker color gave me the look I wanted.”

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