Design Mash-Up: A California Cottage Goes Modern-Tropical

  • 01 of 09

    Design Mash-Up: A California Cottage Goes Modern-Tropical

    Attempting to overhaul your design scheme DIY-style? You don’t need to conform to a specific decorating style—or era—to create rooms that are stylish and modern with a unified look. Rather, your rooms should be dynamic, interesting, and full of the things you love, regardless of their provenance. In other words, yes, you can mix this with that!

    In this new recurring series, we’ll dissect gorgeous spaces to see what makes them tick—by hearing directly from the pros that designed them. You’ll learn exactly why each room works, item by coveted item.

    This month, we examine an adorable three-bedroom cottage in Altadena, California. Charmean Neithart, the San Marino-based designer, talks to us about the home’s Modern-Tropical aesthetic.

    Neithart chose to mix the two decorating styles based on the downsizing homeowners’ fun-loving nature and their willingness to incorporate bright colors.

    “But marrying styles isn’t always so intentional,” says Neithart. “A designer will rarely hear a client say, ‘Here’s my empty room. Here’s a bunch of money. Do whatever you want.’”

    “That concept is a fantasy,” she adds. “And design shows on TV often make it seem like reality.”

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  • 02 of 09

    Design Mash-Up: A California Cottage Goes Modern-Tropical

    Duly noted. Fantasies aside, this stylish real-world living room is a marriage of the family’s island-oriented mementos, their furniture and artwork, and vintage finds that Neithart added to the scheme.

    The bamboo-base coffee table was one of Neithart’s favorite finds—and a starting point for the rest of the room. Once colored a heavy black on top, it was something the designer had hung onto for a year previous due to its statement-making beauty. “I realized it would be the perfect compliment to their living room if only it was a bit brighter, says Neithart. “So I stripped it, then whitewashed it.” The finished product fits perfectly with the rest of the room’s beachy California vibe.

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  • 03 of 09

    Design Mash-Up: A California Cottage Goes Modern-Tropical

    It’s a shame the palm tree print above the couch is unsigned—Neithart fields tons of questions about the artist. And rightly so: The colorful California palm is a quintessential symbol of the tropics, and its scale and palette are wonderfully striking.

    Off-white walls and window treatments are purposefully neutral. “I prefer lighter colors on walls, and bolder colors for smaller things like upholstery, wallpaper, lampshades and accessories,” explains Neithart.

    The tall, dried linea-vine sculpture is imported from the Philippines and adds a dramatic natural element. Blue-lacquer side tables by Bonita Interiors complement the bright-blue glass tile surrounding the fireplace—the focal point of the room. Ceramic Circa Lighting Lauren table lamps in celadon and the white plantation-style hutch further round out the scheme. Over the fireplace, a painting by Utah artist, Carole Wade, is a piece the clients already owned and wanted Neithart to incorporate. Stunning!

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  • 04 of 09

    Design Mash-Up: A California Cottage Goes Modern-Tropical

    The white-lacquer Parsons table is a “hard moment” that’s juxtaposed with the softness of the weathered finish of the teak dining chairs. “I wanted the space to look modern and highly contrasted at the same time,” says Neithart. Though they look vintage, the multicolored chairs were sourced from a De-Cor, a global brand. “They’re a fun element that’s set apart from the table’s starkness,” she adds. (As is the reclaimed-wood pendant light and ceramic fish “swimming” on the wall.)

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  • 05 of 09

    Design Mash-Up: A California Cottage Goes Modern-Tropical

    After completing a language-immersion program in Nicaragua, the couple’s daughter sought a global vibe. “She was moved by the ethnic patterns and textures she saw while abroad,” says Neithart.

    The bold floral wallpaper by Brewster Home Fashions is reminiscent of a 1960s pattern—and the ceramic pineapple lamp on the nightstand is actually from that era, and had belonged to the girl’s grandmother. “All it needed was a different shade,” Neithart says of the peacock-themed Anthropologie shade. Above the bed, the designer scored a carved-wood piece taken from a deconstructed building façade in India. It now acts as a shallow shelf displaying a couple of the daughter’s collected miniatures.

    Neithart cites Etsy as a go-to source for affordable original artwork. “There are so many artists who—though they may not be well known—produce gorgeous work. Pamela Munger, the Colorado artist who created the acrylic painting above the bed, is someone toward whom Neithart tends to gravitate.

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  • 06 of 09

    Design Mash-Up: A California Cottage Goes Modern-Tropical

    The vintage rattan-and-bamboo chair is a mid-century modern find Neithart picked up from an antique shop for this project. It looks completely at home with the rest of the room’s island feel.

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  • 07 of 09

    Design Mash-Up: A California Cottage Goes Modern-Tropical

    The hutch is a 1970s piece Neithart found, and then refinished with a shade of mantis-green lacquer that was purposefully weathered.

    “Things turn out so much better if you don’t match colors,” says Neithart. Yup. There are arguably 10 different shades of green in the daughter’s bedroom alone! Neithart cautions that being matchy-matchy can look too contrived and sterile.

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  • 08 of 09

    Design Mash-Up: A California Cottage Goes Modern-Tropical

    Wondering how Neithart so successfully matches pattern-on-pattern on this bamboo chair from Palecek? She explains that allover patterns (those containing details that can’t be seen too well if you’re standing across the room) with several colors work best when mixed with another print with two colors, say. Likewise, a geometric on top of a big allover pattern tends to punctuate, or give definition to, that pattern.

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  • 09 of 09

    Design Mash-Up: A California Cottage Goes Modern-Tropical

    Neithart installed new hardwood floors and painted the back door with Benjamin-Moore’s Florida Keys 2050-40, a deep aqua that elevates the black-tile countertops (unseen) while adding to the retro feel. Outdated cabinet hardware gave way to Anthropologie’s Violette glass knobs, and the existing butcher-block countertop was refinished. “We wanted a whimsical, inviting feeling and the quirky artwork by RozArt helps achieve it,” says Neithart. 

    When designers marry styles, they seek to embody how people actually live. “Over time, a home will reflect different styles naturally,” Neithart agrees. “People have different experiences and purchase items that subscribe to current trends. Everyone goes through phases—they travel, they acquire heirlooms, and they want to be comfortable. This cottage looks authentic—as if its contents were acquired over time.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves