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While pregnant with her first child, designer Caroline Kilmartin and her husband, embarked on an arduous journey in search of a home in California’s Manhattan Beach. Following a few unsuccessful bids, the couple decided to take a more untraditional approach: they would build their own. After purchasing a tear-down property on a large lot, they worked with architect Joyce Flood to design a layout that would best serve the needs of their budding family. With the help of her sister, Kilmartin took on the interior design of the home. Suffice it to say, it took nearly two years, and a lot of hard work, to get the home to where it now stands. We took a peek inside Kilmartin’s freshly done space and picked up a few clever decor tips along the way. Here’s what we learned.

Bar Stools, Satine Bar Stool by Nuevo Living | Wall Sconces, Schoolhouse Electric

How would you describe the aesthetic you established for the decor?

We live in California and close to the beach so we wanted our house to reflect that tone without taking the traditional beach decor route. I can’t pinpoint one style, because we were inspired by so many, but the main goal was to have the space feel comfortable, natural, and fresh. We kept the backdrop white for the light and fresh look, and added natural woods and fabrics for comfort and a natural quality. I was nervous about going all-white but, am so happy we went with it—it makes every room lighter and more inviting. 

What was the thought process behind the decorative scheme of the kitchen area?

The kitchen and great room area is in the back of our home, facing north, so we were worried about getting enough light in the kitchen. We added skylights at the eastern edge of the kitchen and framed it with a natural wood beam. We added as many windows as possible, including in front of the sink, so that we can look into the backyard when using it. 

We designed the kitchen in an all-white scheme so it would feel spacious and airy—hiding as many appliances as possible, such as the fridge and oven hood, with custom cabinetry so that other design elements weren’t overpowered by stainless steel. We added

open shelving

on one side of the kitchen in order to lend color and an interesting visual element to the space. 

The rattan pendant lights over the island add a little coastal feel. We didn’t want the backsplash to overwhelm the space, so we put shiplap and added a beautiful marble tile above the stove. 

How did you prevent the predominantly neutral decor from feeling snoozy?

When you are building a new house and designing every detail from scratch, it can be easy to overdo it. Since we were trying to make the space feel organic and bright, we kept a lot of things simple but carefully added certain elements like wood beams, pops of interesting tile, vintage rugs and pillows, personal art, and lots of plants to make it more appealing. This approach makes it easy and flexible to update in the future without having to do any major renovations. 

The nook with the daybed was a fast favorite! What went into the design of that space?

The nook is right off the great room/kitchen area so that our son can play within view. Given the nook’s location, I didn’t want it to look like a traditional children’s play area—it had to flow with the rest of the space. The buffet chest is a great piece to store his toys and the daybed is perfect for reading time. Most people don’t initially realize it’s a play area and my son loves it, so I think it’s a win! 

Daybed & Buffet,  Anthropologie | Planter, West Elm  

Mixing and matching various wood finishes can be difficult—how were you able to seamlessly integrate two contrasting wood stains in the dining room?

We liked the idea of having a formal dining room but didn’t necessarily want it to have the traditional feel of a formal dining room. It’s really just a space for our friends and family to gather, relax and enjoy food and wine. Using a wood table with wood chairs gives it a casual, relaxed look.  

We love the mix of tiles in the bathroom. How did you come up with that combination?

Picking bathroom tiles was the hardest part of the project! Tiles feel so permanent and it is difficult to envision how it will come together from small samples. I love bathrooms that are light and airy so we stuck with white tiles. Since we were sticking with one color, we could play around with different designs that complemented each other to add depth.  

Where is your favorite spot in the home?

We really love the open kitchen and living space. The great room has wide accordion doors which open to the yard and pool, giving you a wonderful indoor/outdoor experience. It’s one big space that has everything we need and we enjoy entertaining or just unwinding. 

Photography: Dustylu
Interior Design: Caroline Kilmartin & Anna Rytka
Architect: Joyce Flood

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