When we hear the word “downsize,” our imaginations run rampant with images of crowded living rooms filled with unwanted furniture and once-functioning garages swallowed whole by moving boxes. Suffice it to say, it’s not a pleasant picture and it certainly isn’t one Marie Kondo would approve of.
But for one family of four living in Mill Valley, California—a cozy town nestled on the outskirts of San Francisco—scaling down meant a second chance to rediscover their personal sense of style.
“They had a huge house, six or seven bedrooms, with a beautiful infinity pool and a hot tub up on the hill,” Johanna Vente Anderson, one part of the design duo behind Saffron and Poe, says of her clients. “It was a beautiful house, but it never felt quite like them.”
Vente Anderson and her design partner, Fiona Bronte Burr, were tasked with finding and channeling that je ne sais quoi we all hope to infuse in our homes—you know, when a room, table, or work of art just feels like you? For Vente Anderson and Bronte Burr, personality luckily doesn’t bank on square footage: It’s all in the details.
“The first thing we did was add tongue-and-groove boarding on select walls and ceilings,” says Vente Anderson. The dining room and master bathroom were just two areas where this special attention paid off.
“They asked us to make this house their happy place, with a light, airy, contemporary cottage vibe, incorporating layers of texture and raw materials,” adds Bronte Burr. A warm, neutral palette, cozy built-in nooks, and handmade tiles captured the quintessential cottage feel they were hoping to achieve in the four-bedroom abode.
Color and pattern enjoy their breakout moment in the kitchen where a graphic, tiled backsplash braces the deep blue cabinetry (painted in a satin Benjamin Moore swatch to color match Hague Blue by Farrow & Ball) for impact.
“Christina [the client] really wanted a blue kitchen, and it kind of allowed us to take a design risk,” says Vente Anderson, admitting that the hue was bolder than they’d usually go. “It’s very blue, but we ended up loving it. It’s not too loud, but it has great pigment.”
Inspired by Italian textiles, the Walker Zanger tiles used for the backsplash were a splurge and a worthy one at that.
In addition to commissioning and incorporating custom pieces from local artists and makers—including an art piece–turned–barn door by Aleksandra Zee off the kitchen and a cloud-like pendant by The California Workshop in the master bedroom—the duo peppered the home with natural woven poufs, hand-knotted rugs, and other found accessories sourced through their online shop.
“Three years ago, Fiona and I quit our jobs, bought a one-way ticket to Bali, went over there, and met all these amazing people making beautiful furniture and accessories,” shares Vente Anderson. After a month and a half of meeting artisan partners in Bali, the pair went onto Myanmar, where they eventually launched their online shop before heading to Morocco.
“We’re really trying to uplift artisan communities abroad by giving them an outlet, celebrating their traditional techniques, and also designing furniture pieces with them,” adds Bronte Burr.
The art of layering is clearly not lost on Vente Anderson and Bronte Burr, who see every storied good, found object, and travel keepsake as an opportunity to top off an empty shelf or accompany a lonely corner.
“A lot of people say, ‘Okay, I have a table. Now I’m done.’ But actually, you can put a rug under that table and a cutting board on top of the table and accessories on top of that,” explains Vente Anderson. “Even if you didn’t go to [another] country to find it, you know that an amazing artisan made it and put their love into it. It makes it special 10 years down the road.”
The same sense of love and longevity that permeates the interior also informed the pair’s approach to the backyard, where a joint dining area and firepit are framed by a wrap-around bench.
“Mill Valley has amazing weather pretty much all year round, so we wanted to expand their lifestyle to the outdoors and utilize this space to its full potential,” says Bronte Burr.
If “full potential” entails a starry night, a glass of wine, and dreams of Bali, you can count us in.
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