Californian Cool (and how to get it)

Monday, 2nd April 2018

I am so excited to bring this blog back to life, thanks to The Design Files for the offer to write as the interior design contributor.  What an honor to write for a blog that I have been such a fan of for so many years!

I will share the story on my own blog, with a few out-takes additional photos and how to shop-the-look if so inclined.

This story was a pleasure to research and in the process I ‘met’ so many generous designers and photographers which lead me all the way to email Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi!  This is a Californian article after all, so we needed a bit of a celebrity brush with fame!  Read on to see what I mean…


Interior by Alexander Design, photo by Tessa Neustadt

There are some exciting things happening in the design world over in California, and these chilled-out vibes are well suited to how we live in Australia. This look is laid-back and effortless. We’re talking exposed timber rafters, a knockout vintage armchair, earthy ceramics, slouchy jute baskets and classic mid-century lighting. Don’t forget a guitar in one corner of the room, and a surfboard in the other. We may not be rockstars or pro-surfers, but at least in our home, we can be!

California was known for the very popular ‘Hollywood Regency’ style a few years ago, which was a coordinated look of shiny metallic, blue velvet and bold geometric rugs… but today we’re seeing something quite different. The ‘Californian Cool’ look is more relaxed, comfortable and breezy. However, we are still in Hollywood folks, so there are a few touches of luxury.

It’s the element of the unexpected that adds the cool factor. The combinations that create a bit of tension and excitement, such as a Victorian upholstered chair next to a contemporary lamp, or an abstract artwork alongside a traditional turned wood dining setting.

Also for more of this look, read Surf Shack with gorgeous images by the talented Brittany Ambridge.

Photo by Brittany Ambridge for book Surf Shack
Interior by Alexander Design, Photo by Jenn Crawley

Cool Californian Colours

Walls are generally kept fresh and white, allowing for natural materials such as timber, leather and stone to add colour. Whilst walls tend not to be painted in bold hues, there are colourful moments to enjoy – usually in the form of textiles, rugs, artwork or feature lighting. I encourage you to check out the work of Alexander Design based in LA if you are digging this vibe.

The most important colour to add, though, is black. This adds the cool factor, and without it, you may end up with shabby chic or country style.

Interior by Kelly Wearstler, photo by Nick Hudson

Feeling It!

The absence of colour in this look is more than compensated with gorgeous texture. Timber tabletops with a grain you can feel, wicker furniture, organic ceramic shapes that show evidence of having been made with human hands.

One cannot talk about ‘Californian Cool’ without mentioning the Queen of Californian Design, Kelly Wearstler. Her incredible interiors are loaded with contrasting texture and shape, but not necessarily bold colour. And they’re definitely not boring!

Interior by Alexander Design, photo by Tessa Neaustadt


To get Californian Cool, you’ll need at least one statement chair, and if you can invest in a design classic you will never regret it.

Look for something preferably in black or tan leather, or natural linen. If it’s a minimal vintage chair or a classic design then you’re already halfway there. A rattan or wicker chair with a sheepskin over it is a relaxed option too.

Sofas should firstly be comfortable and inviting, however they are usually white, or not too many shades from it. Since white isn’t the most practical colour to live with, consider using an outdoor fabric with a linen look, and use a throw over the seat, which only adds to the casual look.

Interior by Matt Blacke Inc, photo by Roger Davies.

If you’re looking for something truly unique for your entrance then a glass ping-pong table is something the neighbours definitely won’t have!  This is the image that lead me down the rabbit hole to contact Ellen and Portia.  We need permission to publish images on The Design Files which lead me to getting permission from the photographer Roger Davies, then Architectural Digest, the designer Cliff of Matt Blacke Inc so all that is left is permission from the home owner, who happens to be Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi.  I will not be holding my breath!  So apologies for the low-res image.

Interior by Reath Design, photo by Laure Joliet

Californian style resonates so well with us in Australia as we love to live outdoors. Think large glazing looking out onto a spectacular view, and huge sliding doors that open onto a courtyard that doubles as another living room. This 1963 mid-century house is the perfect example of the merging of the outdoors, inside. The interiors are by Reath Design and touch lightly on the perfectly worn existing materials.

If all else fails, bring the trees inside the house. A tall tree inside makes a big statement and totally changes the atmosphere of the room.

There are ALWAYS indoor plants in Californian homes. Cluster a few small plants together in wicker baskets or ceramic pots of a similar colour.

Photo by Brittany Ambridge for Surf Shack

A space that feels so relaxed, comfortable and kind of thrown together, is often anything but. If you’re struggling for that ‘effortless’ look, start with an easy project – accessories. Collect handmade ceramic vessels and pots in varying shapes but similar colours, to cluster on a shelf or mantle.

Place a few baskets on the floor and if they are a bit wonky, that’s great. The look is to see evidence of made by hand. (Baskets are also so handy to use as planters or storage).

The materials should be REAL. Real leather not vinyl, real stone not engineered stone and real timber not laminate. So although this looks super casual, it can be an expensive look to pull off.

On the walls, macramé is perfect for this casual look, search for vintage options, or make your own, if so inclined. Just make sure it’s a natural colour.

When selecting artwork, keep the colour to a minimum, or just stick to black and white. Find artwork of a black line drawing and you’re onto a winner.

  1. The Lazy Rug $399
  2. Align Daybed, leather $7350
  3. Set of three vases $39.95
  4. Pom Pom Baskets from $59.95
  5. Tambourine $279
  6. Intention Art Print, Framed $285
  7. ‘Shifts and Turns’ Oil on linen, Price on application
  8. Tab Teapot $49
  9. Things Ladder $925
  10. Shrine $110
  11. Carve Chair from $850
  12. Watering Can $59
What a way to make an entrance. The home of Vanessa of Alexander Design, photo by Tessa Neaustadt

How to hygge your interiors, you will love it!

Tuesday, 29th August 2017

Creating atmosphere is a key element in hygge, but it’s harder than is seems to get ‘atmosphere’ and can be more difficult in large open plan spaces. Here are a few tips on how you can do it yourself.

Firstly what is hygge? It is a Danish word (hoo-gah), which doesn’t have a direct English translation. On the surface, it’s about coziness, feeling warm and fuzzy and enjoying the simple things in life. Such as hot chocolate by the fire wearing your psychedelic microfiber socks. However one cannot hygge alone, it’s also about spending time with friends and family.


There have been more than a few books about hygge and some might say that it’s a bit of a fad, but I think it’s more than that.

Hygge has been so popular because we want to feel connected and ‘in the moment’. We’ve become addicted to staring into our phones all day long. We communicate via SMS, Instagram, Facebook, email, etc. The concept of hygge is so appealing because it means putting the phone down, talking and listening to friends in person with a coffee and enjoying a treat.

Actually taking that time to do the simple things has become a novelty in our busy, information overloaded lives.

I hope that Australians embrace hygge in their interiors. Along with the Brits and Americans, we have read the books on how to create hygge, and we want to know the secret in what makes the Danes one of the happiest populations in the world.


To create that cosy feel, we can start with the accessories such as the scented candles, throw blankets, reindeer hides and mid-century Danish furniture, however we need to look at the bigger picture too.  Consider the furniture placement and move furniture into the room to create a closer arrangement that works better for conversations. We want to switch off technology and talk again! I know, it’s hard.

Sofas should not be arranged around edges of the room, save that look for the doctor’s waiting room. Bring a sofa into the space and try using a narrow console table behind it, stacked with books and a lamp.

We need lots of layering such as rugs on the floors, beautiful curtains on the windows and floor lamps everywhere.


Five design and styling tips to replicate hygge interiors in their own home:

Step 1

A way to create instant atmosphere is with lighting. Dim down those down lights and turn on a few floor and table lamps. It feels good to come home and flick on lamps to create a warm glow around the house. They don’t need to be expensive, just make sure the globe has a warm colour temperature.

Step 2

Use lots of textiles. Create contrasting textures, rather than bright colours, using cushions, throw blankets and floor rugs. Why not try a tablecloth for Sunday dinner?

Step 3

Handmade ceramics add that perfectly imperfect character to the space. More points for vintage ceramic finds. Go to the Melbourne Ceramic Markets and try your luck at your local op shop.

Step 4

Bedlinen actually made of linen. They should look a little worn, as they feel softer that way. Soft greys and inky blues for a very cosy feel.

Step 5

Print out those photos from your phone and display them in your home. It is a daunting task for some, but why not do it in a true hygge way. Invite a friend over, bake a cake and sort your photos together!

Step 6

A beautiful fresh bunch of flowers or branches inside. Even better, go outside and walk amongst the trees, you can have that for free!

These little things bring us pleasure, this is the tip of the iceberg but the most important thing is to get into it and give it a go.

Photography · Tess Kelly