By Laura Eckstein Jones By Laura Eckstein Jones | February 14, 2022 | Home & Real Estate Migration HBCA Home HBCA Books
The living room abounds with thoughtful details. PHOTOGRAPHED BY SHADE DEGGES
A dated Laguna Beach home nestled between Monterey pines and the Pacific gets a major glow-up courtesy of Morrison Interiors.
They say third time’s a charm, but for interior designer Denise Morrison, it was a fifth collaboration with a set of beloved clients that took their partnership to a whole new level. “Initially, our kids were in school together, but really, they bought the first house I ever built personally,” says the Morrison Interiors principal. “From there, we built a friendship and I helped them with design on that house and other houses to come. It’s always nice to work with people that you have a great relationship with and that understand your process.”
For this particular project, Morrison Interiors—in collaboration with Foubister Architects and Team Ultimo— tackled a dated home in Laguna Beach’s exclusive Smithcliffs community. Located south of Emerald Bay, the small gated community consists of only 21 estates and, while beachside, is surrounded by stunning old-growth Monterey Pines. “It’s absolutely stunning,” says Morrison.
An Alfonso Marina console table adds interest to the entryway. PHOTOGRAPHED BY SHADE DEGGES
While the home’s location was ideal, the state of the interiors and exteriors was far from perfect. Not only was the ’90s Mediterraneanstyle decor unappealing— think marble everywhere, odd proportions and overly complicated shelf ceilings—the floor plan was awkward, with too many doors, too many small rooms and an unappealing flow overall. “The challenge was, how do we take this ugly thing and make it amazing?” says Morrison. She and her team started by modernizing the exterior. “I want to give a lot of credit to the architect because he came up with this fabulous vision of updating the exterior without having to start over and tear everything down. His approach was to modernize it,” says Morrison. “Mediterranean style in general can transition to modern pretty well.” After seeing renderings for the pareddown exterior, Morrison had the inspiration she needed to tackle the interiors. “Everything was a bit too much. So by simplifying some of the architectural interiors, we could really freshen the home.”
The living room features a sofa by Hickory Chair covered in Cowtan & Tout fabric. The accent chair by the fireplace is vintage. PHOTOGRAPHED BY SHADE DEGGES
First up was figuring out the awkward floor plan. The entry had numerous doors that led to various areas of the house, including the kitchen and dining room. “We really wanted to close that off to make it a real focus, and to create a strong visual,” says Morrison. As well, she combined the kitchen and dining room, and moved the dining room to a prior office space. “My client is an avid cook and an amazing hostess, so getting a really fabulous kitchen for her was very important,” notes Morrison.
A leather armchair by Hickory Chair and a grouping of cocktail tables by Studio A add contrast in the living room PHOTOGRAPHED BY SHADE DEGGES
Next up, Morrison considered the overall aesthetic. While the home is on the beach, the surrounding Monterey pines provide a different look and feel than what’s typical in the area. “It has more of a Northern California vibe that feels kind of cozy," she says. "So some of the tones of the fabrics and materials lend themselves to a cozier feel.” This fits in well with Morrison’s warm and comfortable signature style. “We used a lot of plush fabrics and avoided glossy finishes. That’s what makes the home feel less like a showroom,” she explains.
Farrow & Ball’s Card Room Green shade coats the family room. PHOTOGRAPHED BY SHADE DEGGES
And, while 80 to 85% of the home has new pieces, Morrison encouraged her clients to use some of their own items, like the art collection. “Having their own things provides an instant connection to the home,” she adds. An overall palette of green—the wife’s favorite color and a nod to the trees outside— paired with bits of orange and warm golden tones were incorporated throughout. “Green is a classic color that never goes out of style,” says Morrison. “It’s always something that feels familiar to us and doesn’t have a particular era.” Similarly, the wide-plank walnut flooring is not trendy, but classic and timeless.
The elegant dining room contains a House of Morrison Montecito table, chairs by Hickory Chair and the Chiltern Double chandelier from Urban Electric. PHOTOGRAPHED BY SHADE DEGGES
The kitchen was totally reimagined—gutted, expanded and redone. Equipped with lots of storage—including some disguised behind the backsplash—a custom metal steel hood painted in an antique pewter green shade and Neolith countertops, it’s now the dream kitchen the homeowner imagined.
Located off the kitchen, the dining room is a study in simplicity. A House of Morrison Montecito dining table is surrounded by Hickory Chair seating, while an Urban Electric Chiltern Double chandelier tops things off. Morrison intentionally left the floors bare. “The floors are gorgeous so I didn’t mind letting them shine,” she says. “Also, I’m not a huge fan of rugs under tables and chairs, and unless a client is specifically asking for that I probably won’t include one.”
Besides the kitchen, one room that Morrison especially loves is the primary bathroom. “We moved the walls and made it much more spacious,” she says. “And the overall flow was so improved.” In addition to installing new tile and marble, the designer created a vanity for the wife—something Morrison incorporated in previous homes for her—and added a vintage rug, art and accessories from House of Morrison.
Morrison updated the primary bathroom with Anika Collection fixtures by Watermark and stunning lighting by Visual Comfort PHOTOGRAPHED BY SHADE DEGGES
As well, the family room is one that Morrison was able to make a major visual update to, but without major construction. Located off the kitchen, the room had unattractive maple cabinetry surrounding the dated fireplace. But, instead of starting from scratch, Morrison paneled the drywall and painted it in Farrow & Ball’s Card Room Green shade. She also opened up the entryway from the kitchen to this room. “It was all very segmented,” she says. “So we opened up that entire wall, broadened the steps all the way across so the connection to the family room became more in line with how we live currently.”
While there were certainly challenges, Morrison didn’t see them as something that negatively impacted the project. For example, there was a gigantic heating unit hidden in an area where cabinetry was planned. “That’s typical of a large remodel,” she says. “But honestly, some of my most successful projects have had challenges and I’ve learned to love these surprises. It keeps things interesting. Sometimes those little mistakes or surprises add charm to a house.”
Reworking the placement of the primary bathroom and closet allowed for a more spacious and thoughtful layout in the primary bedroom. PHOTOGRAPHED BY SHADE DEGGES
Since the clients weren’t living in the house during construction, the team was able to give them a final reveal. “We all came and the client threw us a lovely dinner,” Morrison says. “It was just a really beautiful celebration. They absolutely love their home and they’re so thankful to us all.”
TYPE Single-family home
LOCATION Laguna Beach
INTERIOR DESIGN Morrison Interiors denisemorrisoninteriors.com
ARCHITECTURE Foubister Architects foubisterarchitects.com
BUILDER Team Ultimo teamultimo.com
ALFONSO MARINA Entryway console; primary bedroom bed alfonsomarina.com
DUNN-EDWARDS Paint throughout dunnedwards.com
FARROW & BALL Paint throughout farrow-ball.com
HICKORY CHAIR Dining room chairs; living room sofa and leather chair hickorychair.com
HOUSE OF MORRISON Primary bedroom nightstands; primary bathroom vintage rug and decor; kitchen decor; dining room table and buffet houseofmorrison.com
LEE INDUSTRIES Family room sofa and chairs leeindustries.com
NEOLITH Kitchen countertops and tile neolith.com
THE URBAN ELECTRIC COMPANY Dining room chandelier urbanelectric.com
VISUAL COMFORT Kitchen and primary bathroom lighting visualcomfort.com