You have one week in Los Angeles to reorganize and decorate a three-bedroom Venice Beach bungalow—what’s your game plan? This was exactly the prompt designer Alex Kalita of New York–based design firm Common Bond Design received from a client who was frozen with “decision and spending fatigue.” (The homeowner had personally overseen a major renovation that included converting a detached one-car garage into a “casita” guesthouse—more on that later.) A year after completing the remodel with guidance from interior architect Cat Walsh (who also helped her select a few furnishings to tide her over), the homeowner called in Kalita to take the house’s decor from unresolved to fully refined.
Given Kalita is based in New York, the project had to be realized over a seven-day visit (with any additional sourcing completed remotely over Pinterest and FaceTime). The resulting design feels as warm and breezy as the Southern California climate, with an earthy color scheme and local ceramics and textiles comfortably layered in with an array of bright, natural surfaces. However, behind the scenes, the process was an intensive collaboration between Kalita, the client, and the shopkeepers of newly iconic L.A. design stores. If you’re looking to push your own project over the finish line, check out the insights we gathered from Kalita on how to shop and plan with momentum and purpose.
Measure Twice, Shop Once
For the first two days of her L.A. mission, Kalita worked with the homeowner on reorienting existing furniture into optimal arrangements, making detailed lists of the types of pieces that would plug the gaps, and taking comprehensive measurements of vacant spaces and corners to determine the ideal dimensions of said furnishings.
This way, Kalita knew that if they “stumbled on something perfect in a vintage shop, we could act fast.” Case in point: After discovering that the floor model of a typically made-to-order, Donald Judd–inspired daybed at Stahl + Band was for sale, Kalita whipped out her tape measure and confirmed that the piece was the exact size of a previously bare kitchen alcove that had been calling for a low-profile seat. Later that day, she completed the sunny nook with a dusty terracotta throw pillow from Lost & Found that tied the charcoal upholstery of the daybed to the color scheme of the rest of the room.
Get to Know the Locals
Although we wholeheartedly endorse a lazy Sunday spent cruising your favorite shops with no particular agenda in mind, you’ll need to change gears if you have a project deadline on the horizon. Given Kalita had only three days, she turned to the expertise of the shopkeepers of L.A. retail darlings, like Nicky Kehoe, General Store, and Casa Perfect.
The people behind these tightly curated boutiques have dialed-in aesthetics and “deep familiarity with their inventory,” Kalita notes, so if you feel aligned with their signature look, you can reach out before a visit to give them a heads-up about your interior needs. Knowing they did not have time to dig through massive piles of rugs, for example, Kalita shared a color palette and inspiration images with Ariana Rugs prior to stopping by, and arrived to a dozen variations the showroom had short-listed for consideration.
“If a designer isn’t in your budget,” Kalita says, “letting a shopkeeper into the process can get you a long way!”
Think of Your Home Like a Rubik’s Cube
Although from the outside the design process might seem to have consisted of carefully penciling furniture into a floor plan, Kalita reveals that in this whirlwind endeavor, “except for the beds and dining set, there’s hardly anything in the space that didn’t start out in another room.” Nothing was treated as set in stone, a standard refrain being, “What if we put X in the living room, and then moved Y into the guest bedroom, and replaced it with Z?”
The ceramic and concrete side tables, artfully handcrafted by Julen Ussia, were originally intended to be stationed in the outdoor lounge area. It wasn’t until Kalita moved them into the casita “on a lark” that the compelling fusion of terracotta–hued bases against the striking black-and-white tumbling tile clicked into place. This small revelation set the tone for color combinations throughout the space, with Kalita then snagging a pomegranate photograph previously assigned to the kitchen, a tan leather lounge chair from the living room, and charcoal duvet from another bedroom.
Balance Your Risk-Taking
In Venice Beach, many homes have a rear one-car garage accessible from an alleyway, so it’s fairly common practice to put this valuable square footage to use as a petite guesthouse with an independent entrance. With friends and family members eager to make a trip to the city, the homeowner’s goal was to have guests feel like they were “enjoying a luxury getaway” in hers, with the added benefit of being able to list the space on Airbnb on off weekends.
Kalita saw the casita as a natural spot to play around with the design details. “When traveling, you’re typically in a space for a relatively short amount of time and are more relaxed and open to novelty,” she explains. Thus, that lively geometric tile can be found in the bathroom, as well. (It also helps that the encaustic clay makes for easy cleaning between visitors.) To offset the striking geometric quality of the flooring, natural wood paneling was added to the ceiling, where it would avoid wear and tear from foot traffic and suitcase wheels.
While most of us don’t need to condense our design decisions into a single week (phew!), we can all learn from this pair’s readiness, receptiveness to change, and tenacious decisiveness.
Enjoy more refreshing Cali homes:
Inside Garance Doré’s L.A. Home Where Terracotta Hues Steal the Show
Warm Wood and Natural Accents Rule at This Topanga Home
Craving Summer? This Actress’s Light-Filled L.A. Home Will Take You There