A Hermosa Beach designer tailors a Mediterranean-style home for a young couple and their two children—but not without a lot of color and layered patterns.
Photographed by Amy Bartlam and Lauren Pressey
For Manhattan Beach resident Alanna Matthews, using bright and cheery pops of color in the house she shares with her husband, Kyle, and their two children, ages 5 and 2, was non-negotiable. “I believe color can set the tone and mood of a home, and we wanted our home to be bright and inviting,” says Alanna of the 4,550-square-foot home in the Martyrs Tree Section. “Festive but not too over-the-top. I didn’t want each room to get lost in the typically subtle monochromatic coastal palette, in which each room seems to blend into the next.”
To incorporate Alanna’s love of color and create a kid-friendly space for their two children, the couple met with interior designer Kate Lester, founder of the eponymous design firm in Hermosa Beach. “This is a Mediterranean house, and the last thing we tried to do was to pretend that it was a beach cottage,” says Kate, a Torrance native who has designed projects in the South Bay as well as Malibu, New York and Florida. “We had to embrace the traditional elements, and I think it’s chic and hip and a little bit trendy. I love using color, but in my opinion it has to be used correctly and in the right areas. I’m not a fan of accent walls and using color just to use it.”
But the design history of this home had an unexpected twist. Kate had previously designed the five-bedroom home for homeowners who referred the Matthews family to her. “Turns out, we learned that we all graduated from USC,” says Kate. “They wanted something liveable and fun, and they wanted to make it their own. She loves color, and she’s not afraid to use color and infuse her personality into the home.”
Alanna, who initially envisioned a “beach chic meets Tuscany” aesthetic, wanted a designated space for the kids to play but also a grown-up area for entertaining with family and friends. And she also wanted to weave in aspects of Kyle’s affinity for more muted beach and natural tones.
“Living in the South Bay, it is hard not to be inspired by its breathtaking coastline,” adds Alanna. “Ultimately our design challenge was twofold: creating a coastal design within a traditional Mediterranean home with a much darker palette and reconciling my husband’s preference for more traditionally muted beach and natural hues with my love of color.”
“The home still has classic bones, but it’s a fresh take on the traditional,” Kate adds. “Like a Chippendale chair, but we used it in red and painted all of the paneling of the built-in bookcase in the living room in a vibrant color that you wouldn’t see normally. I think we kind of broke all of the rules. It’s traditional, but it’s fun.”
The transformation initially began after Kate reviewed Alanna’s Pinterest board and magazine tear sheets to assess style. They chose a neutral wall color: Clunch by Farrow & Ball. “Every room ties together, and we didn’t want to have a ‘green room’ or a ‘purple room,’” adds Kate.
For consistency, they chose a neutral palette to build on and then layered color and pattern. “Alanna was very open to things being fun and fresh, and Kyle wanted the house to feel bright and open and cheerful,” Kate shares. “He trusted us, and he would see everything and be involved.”
For the project, it was important to combine a budget-splurge ratio including high-end fabrics from Tilton Fenwick from Duralee, area rugs from Pottery Barn and West Elm, abstract artwork by Michelle Armas in cheery pink and orange sherbet tones, and bold pieces such as a coral-hued Chippendale-style chair from Wisteria.
“The house is a mix of high-low,” adds Kate. “There are quite a few catalog items, and not everything is custom and ready-made. In the entry, we chose a super-fun bench from a catalog , and to save on some of the costs we made a decorative, non-functioning Roman shade. It’s a great way to use less fabric.”
High-traffic rooms include the kitchen and breakfast nook, living room and the kids’ playroom. “We built the breakfast nook as an informal space for dining, but also for the kids to use it a crafts table with storage underneath,” says Kate, who custom-upholstered the banquette with an outdoor fabric for easy cleanup and added a fig leaf-patterned wallpaper by Peter Dunham.
For the playroom—with Restoration Hardware papier-mâché animal busts made of recycled paper, and striped FLOR tiles instead of wall-to-wall carpet for easy removal—Kate spotted a zebra-printed wallpaper by Sissy+Marley on Instagram and settled on a safari or world-inspired space for the children that wouldn’t lean too girly or too masculine. “Not too many people would let you do zebra wallpaper and wouldn’t spend the money to make a playroom extra special, but it was a 30-second decision,” says Kate. “The kids love it, and they were running around so excited when they first saw it. They love that they can play in their teepee, and they love that they have their own space. I think it’s a win-win for everyone.”
“Each room uniquely captures a little piece of our family dynamic,” Alanna adds of sentimental objects strategically placed throughout the house, including her mother’s Waterford crystal and china and first pieces of furniture she bought with Kyle in the dining room. “Family and friends can relax in the formal living room and reminisce through photos. Our kids can create their own little world in their whimsical playroom, and we can entertain in our dining room yet play board games with the kids in the breakfast nook. In many ways, our home is also very sentimental and incorporates important moments to us from the past in every room.”
Upstairs in the master suite, Kate created a tranquil, sophisticated sanctuary for the couple with a subdued palette of soft whites and violets. “We used a metallic, floral wallcovering for some texture and interest and did a lot of different layering of fabrics and textures with violet hair-on-hide lamps, velvet pillows and woven wood shades,” says Kate. “It’s a little getaway like a resort, and it’s just a space where they can stop and say, ‘We’ve been parents all day, so let’s just take a breath and enjoy our space.’”
Alanna reveals her favorite room, though, might just be the formal living room. “It’s the perfect spot in the house to truly relax,” she says of the room appointed with a coffee table from Restoration Hardware, a metallic jute rug and drapery by Rogers & Goffigon. “All of the details of the room pull together nicely to create a Zen-like refuge from every day.”
“I love that this house doesn’t take itself too seriously,” adds Kate. “It tells a story, and I like that even the formal living isn’t formal, and every room gets used and gets enjoyed. That’s the most important thing.”