Visit a Chic Coastal Retreat Rooted in Mid-Century Modern Style

Natural materials and earthy hues provide a rock-solid backdrop for curated vintage finds in a new Newport Beach home.

April 9, 2024

Call it a technicality or a matter of semantics, but a home on the beach isn’t necessarily a beach house. Just ask Lisa Berman and Melissa Rohani of Studio Gutow, an interior design firm based in Laguna Beach, California. Over the course of three years, the duo worked with a local surgeon and her family to create interiors that celebrated their new home’s coastal location with subtlety and sophistication—and without any of the typical “beachy” kitsch.

“Creating a sense of place is important to us, but so is individuality,” Berman says. “In recent years, our clients’ Newport Beach neighborhood has been booming with cookie-cutter blue-and-white beach houses, but we wanted to buck that trend. We wanted to design a house with enough breathing room to reflect its owners who, in this case, happen to be a young family of four.”

  • Sunlight streams through the entry and bounces off the shield-shaped mirror mounted atop the walnut paneling. The small space is packed with eccentricities like an unusually carved Finnish chair and a 1950s French commode with sycamore veneers. The sconce is vintage Italian and the runner is antique Persian.

    Hugo Landa Garcia
  • The Fior di Pesco marble lends a hint of color and distinction to the otherwise seamless kitchen and family room. The rounded rush backs of the vintage Arthur Umanoff barstools, plush mohair sofa, and antique wool rug take the edge off the ceiling’s sharp angles and the abounding hard wood and stone surfaces.

    Hugo Landa Garcia

Working with architect Gary Maxwell, Berman and Rohani took cues from mid-century modern design to set the framework for easy, breezy interiors that cater to their clients’ alfresco inclinations. Throughout sunlit spaces, cedar-clad ceilings reign above rooms wrapped in smooth walnut paneling and streamlined built-ins that speak to the straightforward style of the bygone era. To counter the austerity of the clean lines and sparse structural details, they slathered walls with pigment-tinted Venetian plaster for softness and incorporated statement-making features made from natural stone for texture and depth. In the main living areas, tumbled Mexican limestone floors convey a sense of age (and stand up to sandy feet) while the muted earthtones of the Fior Di Pesco marble island and range wall wash the kitchen in warmth and hide a myriad of sins (a.k.a. splatters and spills).

Curated furnishings lend substance to the living room that Berman describes as “simple yet elevated.” The 1920s Piet Kramer Art Deco oak cabinet and the 1960s French lounge chairs anchor the lofty room while the Charlotte Perriand–style cocktail table and Dirk Vander Kooij side table add interest.

Hugo Landa Garcia

“It’s a proven fact that natural materials do more than please the eye—they also calm the mind,” Berman says. “For this reason, we were very intentional and discerning in our choices and steered clear of anything that could come across jarring or harsh. We took our time to search for materials with pattern and movement like grainy woods and veiny stone along with living metals like unlacquered brass and wrought iron that will beautifully patina over time.”

In the family room, a walnut nook and built-in cabinet keeps books, games, and media equipment out of sight but close at hand while visually anchoring the space. The landscape that tops it is made entirely of puzzle pieces by artist Tyler Hays. The unglazed mushroom lamp is by Ceramicah.

Hugo Landa Garcia

These tones—inspired by earthen elements found along the southern California coastline—served as the starting point for the interior palette and presented the designers with another opportunity to bring the outdoors in. Soft whites and neutrals extracted from the sea oats and sand are echoed in billowy linen drapes, crisp cotton upholstery, and curly wool accents. Brown notes derived from driftwood, rocks, and tree trunks prevail in furniture handcrafted from oak, walnut, maple, and sycamore, or woven from rush and rattan. And around every corner, sprigs of green sprout in various forms—a potted tree in a crusty Willy Guhl planter, a luxe Indian silk throw pillow, or a graphic motif in one of the many vintage and antique Persian rugs.

Those frayed and faded rugs are a particular hallmark of Studio Gutow’s work. “You’ll find them in almost all of our projects,” Rohani says. “They’re character building in any type of room, but especially in those that lean toward the minimal end of the design spectrum. The craftsmanship that goes into their hand-woven patterns is deeply rooted in cultural tradition making them relics in their own rite. We consider them true works of art.”

A shallow walnut nook spans the width of a wall in the primary bedroom. “We wanted it to feel like an extension of the bed and to visually connect the mismatched vintage nightstands that tuck in on either side,” Berman says. The bed is upholstered in Rose Uniacke linen with organic flax bedding by Cultiver.

Hugo Landa Garcia
  • A vintage desk recovered from a church rectory assumes a new role as a dressing table in a sunlit corner of the primary bedroom. The vintage rattan stool and mohair cushion were scored at Orange and the Isabelle Sicart lamp is from Galerie Carole Decombe.

    Hugo Landa Garcia
  • The massive scale and masculine profile of the powder bathroom’s integrated slab sink and accent wall are balanced by the flirty, feminine hues in the Pink Lady quartzite. The etched mirror is vintage French and the wall mounted faucet is by Waterworks.

    Hugo Landa Garcia

Because the wide window expanses and open floor plan limited wall space for hanging art, the designers turned to sculptural lighting to convey artistic expression. Quirky cone-shaped metal sconces, a sleek alabaster pendant, and enchanting ceramic table lamps shed light on sofas and chairs with low-slung seats and sculptural arms, shapely tables with curvy tops and peg legs, and handsome case goods. Sourced near and far—from Lawrence of La Brea and Obsolete in Orange Country to Ponce Berga in West Palm Beach and Hector Finch in London—the pieces that comprise this unique assemblage represent a wide range of periods (Art Deco, Mid-Century Modern) and provenance (Italy, Finland, the Netherlands, France). Together, they collectively to support the understated elegance of the architecture and the homeowner’s desire for curated interiors.

“The furnishings feel collected, purposeful, and unpredictable,” Rohani says. “At first glance, they might even seem a bit unusually paired. But that sense of unexpectedness gives a room allure and makes it more inviting and engaging. Without it, the design can fall flat.”