The High Ceilings in This Two-Bedroom Were So Good, This Family of 5 Was Willing to Downsize
“It felt so comfortable, and the air was really beachy.”
Published Feb 15, 2023 1:55 AM
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When Bethany Brill first spotted her circa-1980 Costa Mesa, California, home on Zillow, she kept scrolling. “It was two bedrooms. I was like, that’s not an option,” recalls the hair-and-makeup artist–turned–designer. Especially since she and her husband were coming from a four-bedroom house in Portland, Oregon, its compact footprint seemed unrealistic, because it meant their three fast-growing children, Zara (7), Billie (4), and Margot (3), would all have to share a space. But that’s the thing about an in-person showing—it can change everything.
“Once we saw it, I was like, whoa, this feels right. It felt so comfortable, and the air was really beachy,” remembers Brill. Her biggest revelation: The size of the bedrooms made up for the fact that there were only two of them. The ceilings soar to nearly 16 feet and there are closets and natural light aplenty. The kids’ reaction? “I don’t know how long it will last, but we’re in a sweet spot where they like to spend time together and they’re learning the skills of negotiation,” she says.
Unlike in the family’s previous ranch-style home, where Brill made do with some of the former owner’s design decisions, this time around she was adamant about choosing every last finish. After removing a wall in the kitchen to open it up to the dining and living area, the couple took the house down to its bare bones and started anew with graphic square tile, large round paper lanterns, and hardy plywood. But don’t let their simplicity fool you: “It’s not as much about the materials themselves as it is about how you use them,” Brill attests.
The three-quarter-inch sheets of Douglas fir that cover the ceiling, walls, doors, and cabinets aren’t finished with just any ordinary sealant: It’s Brill’s own concoction of hard-wax oil that’s meant to look like a more intensive soap technique, which is trendy in Scandinavia. She applied the oil treatment herself and used a custom combination of white and clear to achieve a perfect honey tone. “It reminds me of dyeing someone’s hair blonde, where you need the right amount of ash-to-warmth-to-golden ratio,” says Brill.
Pushing the limits of the basic construction material further, she had her contractor lay out the square boards on the living room wall with the grain in alternating directions, resulting in a checkered pattern that echoes the gridded fireplace tile. For the primary closet doors and ceiling in the ground-level bathroom, Brill introduced a hint of color by adding mineral powder to her special recipe—a material she uses frequently to make her plaster mirrors.
Leftovers are also not something Brill and her family easily overlook. It was her husband’s idea to stick a section of scrap tile behind the cooktop to serve as a mini backsplash. To break up the wood-on-wood look in the space even more, they sourced a section of yellow upper cabinets from Danish kitchen design brand Reform. “We really wanted a dose of Copenhagen,” she explains. By situating the cabinets closer to the ceiling than usual, Brill ensured they don’t cast shadows on their countertops.
Many of the furniture pieces that traveled with them in the moving van have gotten updates, too. Brill gave Zara and Billie’s IKEA bunk bed a second life by coating the raw pine in green and blue paint. “I didn’t want to change up their bed because they had enough changes going on,” shares Brill. The setup works for now (Margot’s sleeping nook is directly across from the bunk), but the designer hopes to one day build a lofted structure that fits all three of their mattresses.
The spacious backyard is still on Brill’s renovation agenda. Already, she’s covered the “red 2000s wood” bar in the same tile she used indoors and ripped out the tiki-inspired awning, but there is something missing. “It’s begging for a pool or hot tub,” she says. Third bedroom addition who?