A Reader's Plight: Can West Coast REALLY Meet East Coast in My Home?

Q: I love the laid back, west coast interiors by designers like Amber Interiors and Katie Hodges.  They feel modern and uncluttered, but bohemian and earthy at the same time. How can I pull off this look in my traditional New England cape-style home?  I am so sick of my stuffy, stodgy decor!

-Melissa in MA

Hi Melissa,

We were so happy to receive your question, because marrying that Cali-cool style with traditional architecture is our specialty!  Let’s start with what you love about this style and then figure out how we can bring those elements into your space in a way that celebrates the architecture and environment of your home.  For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to refer to the style you’re describing as “Cali Boho Modern or CBM.  

What’s the feeling that makes this style so appealing?  

Let’s do some quick free-association:

  • Sunny/breezy

  • Uncomplicated/down to earth

  • Casual/Inviting

  • Organic

  • Eclectic/layered/collected

  • Effortless/uncluttered

  • Earthy

  • Globally inspired

What are the hallmarks of CBM?

When you quickly scan through the portfolio images of the designers you mentioned, certain common denominators quickly begin to emerge:

  • Earth tones layered on top of warm white/neutral walls

  • Furniture that invites lounging

  • Natural materials like baskets, jute, bamboo, stone, raw wood

  • Plants

  • Handmade: hand thrown pottery, hand-dyed textiles, hand-knotted rugs

  • Global influences

What are the hallmarks of traditional east coast architecture?

  • Traditional molding/mantles

  • Steep gabled roofs

  • Dormer and multi-pane windows  

  • Center hall floor plan (as opposed to open floor plan) with cozy-sized rooms

  • Wood floors

  • Shaker-style kitchen cabinets

Now that we’ve got the lay of the land, let’s talk bottom line.  Basically all you need to do is mix these two things together like a DJ mashing up songs.  (The genre of this metaphor is house music of course! Sorry we JUST COULDN’T RESIST making that terrible pun.)  Sound simple? It is and it isn’t. It’s a simple concept, but doing it well takes a bit of effort. Luckily, we’ve had plenty of practice and we’re sharing all our tips n’ tricks with you so that you can nail “The Mix.”  

What’s “The Mix”? It’s a striking blend of traditional and bohemian for a collected, eclectic look that feels anchored in history, yet decidedly modern.  It’s balanced, livable, all the things we listed above as qualities that draw us to that Cali look! And of course the thing that makes all cool things seem, well, cool is the whole ‘not even trying’ vibe.  The key to channeling that in your home is simple: Curate, don’t decorate!  You DO NOT want to order a slew of items all from the same box store, or fill your car up with crap from Homegoods.  We’re not saying you can’t buy anything from those places, but the trick is to mix pieces from different time periods, brands, countries, and price points to achieve a space that’s one-of-a-kind.  

This sounds easier than it is.  Because this can quickly lead to a home that’s cluttered and chaotic.  You do not want your home looking like it’s got multiple personality disorder! We’ll say it again: Eclectic DOES NOT mean cluttered.  But don’t panic. We’ve got some guidelines that will help you avoid the pitfalls and achieve “The Mix” in your traditional home. And trust us- you’re going to find that you love the traditional features of your home that are giving you so much grief right now.  We’re going to celebrate those qualities and present them in their best light. No house shaming from us- we are a house-positive team over here!

Since we’re a team of former teachers, we believe in breaking things down into manageable chunks and having a plan.  So we’re giving you a couple tips this week and we’ll be back with a couple more next week once you’ve had a few days to absorb this info and maybe take some action in your space!

1) NATURAL BEAUTY

Take a cue from the natural world outside your window.  CBM style layers rich earth tones on top of a neutral foundation to bring soothing color and dimension to a space.  You should use this trick as well, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be using the same earth tones- California’s climate and landscape is quite different than New England’s!  Start with a neutral base, but instead of trying to make desert tones work in your Cape Cod house, bring in some of the earthy colors from the nature around you. If you’re on the beach, you might pull in sandy taupes, deep ocean indigo, and the bottle-green of sea glass.  If you’re in a wooded area, you might take inspiration from mossy tree trunks, mushrooms, and river rocks, choosing tones of olive green, burnt sienna, and umber.

  Landscapes  ,  whether paintings or photographs, are a mainstay of the CBM style.

Landscapes, whether paintings or photographs, are a mainstay of the CBM style.

This same approach applies to plants.  We strongly recommend incorporating indoor plants with this style, since it’s all about blurring the line between indoor/outdoor.  Many California homes prominently feature succulents and cacti, which makes sense given that they’re desert plants and California is home to several large desserts.  Feel free to mix some succulents into your space, but avoid looking like a southwestern themed Bed and Breakfast by including plenty of leafy green plants like the ivy and ferns that grow rampant on the east coast.  

Trim Design Co. Natural Elements

Incorporate natural elements and textures to evoke the outdoors throughout your home.  These might include stone finishes, woven reed baskets, clay pottery, jute rugs, and macrame woven from knotted rope (like the pillow on the sofa in the above image).   

  Left: A woven basket tray is used to corral clutter on this natural wood coffee table, including coasters of sliced agate and a fresh bunch of fragrant eucalyptus.    Right: Seeded and silver dollar varieties of eucalyptus top a bookcase in this New England home. The shelf below holds a chunk of green granite native to the region, and nesting seagrass baskets.

Left: A woven basket tray is used to corral clutter on this natural wood coffee table, including coasters of sliced agate and a fresh bunch of fragrant eucalyptus.

Right: Seeded and silver dollar varieties of eucalyptus top a bookcase in this New England home. The shelf below holds a chunk of green granite native to the region, and nesting seagrass baskets.

  The ceiling beams in the living room of this seaside home were treated to resemble the texture and bleached color of the driftwood dotting the nearby shoreline.

The ceiling beams in the living room of this seaside home were treated to resemble the texture and bleached color of the driftwood dotting the nearby shoreline.


2) NATURAL LIGHT

A surefire way to bring a touch of modern into your old home is to maximize natural light. The airy, west coast homes we see splashed across the pages of the latest Serena & Lily catalog bask in the glow of natural light--not only is California blessed with sunny, temperate weather, but architecturally their homes tend not to be as old as our New England homes, so homeowners get to enjoy bigger windows and more of them! As for us New Englanders, some of our homes have smaller windows and windows with lots of small panes in them. Even if your home does have some large windows, previous homeowners might have dressed them in long, heavy drapes. Here are a few ideas for lightening (and livening) things up:

  • Go Naked!

There’s nothing more refreshing than the feeling of getting undressed--and the same is true for your windows! If there are rooms in your home where you can get away with having zero window treatments, DO IT! Even if it’s the dining room and it faces the street and you’re worried about passersby peeking in, consider it. Think about how often you truly use your dining room, and think about what’s taking place in there when you do use it. Is it a holiday dinner? A family gathering? Maybe that wine tasting you host a couple of times a year? Chances are, for many of us, our dining room doesn’t get a lot of daily traffic. And when it does, the activities going on in there tend to be pretty tame. Now, I know, this is a truly personal comfort level and some people really do want to keep their privacy, but if you are open to the idea that you might be visible to the street, consider removing the window treatments from your windows altogether. Long, heavy drapes, or shades with lots of ornate detail really play up the “traditional” in your traditional home. Removing them adds a breath of fresh air to your space.

  • Clean, Modern Roller Shades

Roller shades seem to get a bum rap. This probably is because people think back to those hideous vinyl roller shades that plagued so many of the bedrooms of our youth! But, the options available today have made these clean, modern window treatments an excellent choice for creating an uncluttered, airy home. When they’re rolled up, they essentially disappear. When they’re lowered, you get to enjoy a beautiful, filtered light. You can also add a privacy liner if needed.

We love the woven woods window blinds and shades from Hunter Douglas. For roller shades, they carry the Alustra Woven Textures line. This line offers an alternative to traditional woven wood Roman shades--providing the same earthy, natural texture that we love, but in a clean, modern roller shade. In the living room below, which has more modern-style windows, we wanted to keep as much natural light as possible and we didn’t want to weigh down the room with heavy, traditional drapes. The Alustra shades do the trick--and they add a bit of warmth with their natural texture and sandy color. We opted to not include a valance because the bulk of that would have taken away from the window and added unwanted heaviness to the look.

  • Woven Wood Roman Shades

Bringing in light-filtering, minimalist window treatments is key. And when you select a low-profile, Roman shade made from natural materials, you not only are maximizing the light, but you’re also warming up your space with a touch of natural elements. This keeps things from feeling too sterile or unfinished. Select woven wood Roman shades for fairly standard sized windows. You might not want to use them on really tall, oversized windows because when they’re raised and folded up into themselves, their bulk at the top of the window may appear dark and heavy--not the look you’re going for! That’s when a roller shade (minus the valance as shown above) might be the better choice.

This is a Hunter Douglas Roman shade from the Provenance line:

Trim Design Co. Hunter Douglas Woven Wood Provenance Roman Shades

  • Linen Roman Shades

Linen Roman Shades are another beautiful light-filtering option. Shown below, they add a warm, delicate, flowing feel to the space without any heaviness. And as with the options described above, their translucence emphasizes all the natural light in the room.

Trim Design Co. Linen Roman Shades

 So Melissa, stay tuned, because next week we’re planning to share some more tips and ideas for nailing that Cali-Boho-Modern style in your traditional New England home!

Readers—what do you think? Do you have some other ideas to suggest to Melissa? Do you think it’s okay to mix West Coast with East Coast? We’d love to hear!

—Annabel & Jen