Four years ago, when Kim Alexandriuk embarked on designing this sizable hilltop property in Montecito, California, neither she nor her clients knew that what they had envisioned as a second home would very soon become their permanent residence. The owners are a New York–based husband and wife, who met working in the financial industry (where he still works), and their young daughter. They are both outdoorsy, with a love of mountain biking, triathlons, and swimming, all activities well suited to this property—where a bobcat occasionally visits and where the stars are crystal clear at night. Now, due in part to concerns about COVID-19, the family has made this California vacation place their new home.
All the better to enjoy the thoughtful work Alexandriuk put in. A Santa Monica–based designer who started her business in 1999, Alexandriuk collaborated with the owners to create an elegant-but-livable vibe in the property’s varied farmhouse-style buildings: There is a main house, comprising the family’s bedrooms and personal living spaces; a guesthouse; and a barn, which Alexandriuk transformed into a multifunctional space for charity fundraisers, holiday gatherings, and an overflow of friends and family who can’t necessarily be accommodated by the guesthouse alone (the custom sofas all fold out into extra beds).
“It’s a really cool way to live,” says Alexandriuk of the disparate buildings. Next year, the couple plans to finish adding a pool and poolhouse to the property.
Here, Alexandriuk, who also has a collection of decorative rugs called Vulcania with Christopher Farr—many of which she used throughout the home—shares with ELLE Decor the process of designing this property.
ELLE Decor: How did this project come about?
Kim Alexandriuk: I had done a house for the husband’s good friend and his wife in Tahoe. Both husbands had grown up together here in Studio City; they were West Coast boys. That was what started the whole talk. And then I met with this couple. The house already existed, but they wanted to add onto it. The house used to be home to a rose-growing business—that’s what the former owners did, and I believe the barn building was used for that. The house was called Rose Hill. And that hill where they grew the roses is where the pool and poolhouse are going to go.
ED: You said they wanted to expand.
KA: They expanded the main house. We did an addition, and we added rooms to it. We changed certain configurations. And the way to add another wing to the house was not easy; we had to do something unusual with the staircase. The main goal was that they wanted it to look natural and seamless and be of the exact same quality level as the rest of the building. The one thing about the former owners is that they did not skimp on the details. The doors are all solid bronze, and they go into the walls. The glass is incredible. Everything on that house was just top-of-the-line and beautifully done. They wanted it done exactly the same way, so they hired the same contractor, Kevin Archer, to do the addition and all the changes.
ED: And then besides the addition, did you have to do a lot of other work in any of the buildings?
KA: Yes, a lot of it was the feeling of the coloration of the interior, the finishes. In the one I call the sitting room, which is downstairs, I actually put this gorgeous shagreen-patterned tile wall. It’s this beautiful cement tile that’s embossed with a shagreen pattern. That was really quite heavy, and I put that all along the wall. They had to do some structural work to hold all of that. And then that mirror, because the husband’s wish was, “I want those mirrors like they have at Balthazar [the restaurant in New York],” that mirror’s huge. So there had to be almost like a pulley system that was built that had to come back from behind the wall to make sure the wall with the mirror never comes down.
The owners had very clear views about how they want to live. And they said, “We want a huge round farm table in the kitchen. And we want bistro chairs.” And: “We do not want a dining room.” So we made a 72-inch round table—it’s huge—in the kitchen, and it’s beautiful, a Brutalist table with a hand-hammered bronze base. It’s got a two-and-a-half-inch-thick solid walnut top. The cabinetry was very farmhouse, very distressed finish. We had to do something to balance this room. For me, that was the light fixture from Downtown. It doesn’t feel heavy, and it’s a huge statement. That and the Josef Hoflehner photographs, which I just think are lovely, and they have a lot to do with the owners’ likes. Everything we did art-wise, they were super involved in. They purchased some things themselves from artists who were up-and-coming people in New York, and then there were pieces I brought to them.
ED: You worked at the Getty Museum at one point and have a background in art?
KA: I have a degree in fine art. I studied it in France when I was in college. And I have a degree in international economics.
ED: Literally art and commerce.
KA: If I could have, I would have done just the art side. But my parents were immigrants. They went through World War II—my dad was Romanian, and my mother is from Berlin. We were raised speaking German, going back and forth all the time between Europe and here. My parents were really hardworking, and my dad was all about “doing something solid.” So he pushed really hard that I have some kind of a business background. In the end, it’s really good that I did that.
ED: There is something very European about this house. It could be in Provence.
KA: Absolutely. There are a lot of fountains. In the front of the house, there is a really old limestone fountain. All of those elements that are around the property came from France. A lot of them were existing already, and then we added to them. But I think that is what drew the owners to the property, that those elements were in place. They loved that and responded to that and continued in that note. But that said, they went a more contemporary way inside the house because they also love contemporary furnishings.
Look at that massive fireplace in the living room. It’s really about the balance of the elements. I didn’t want to over-furnish it. This is a more intimate room. You come into it right after you enter the house, and then after you walk through that room, you come into the kitchen. It’s where they sit and hang out if one of them is cooking in the kitchen. There’s a structural aspect in the sofa and in that slipper chair. And the legs of the Thierry Jeannot coffee table are old railroad tracks, which harken back to the rustic element. That’s the balance I was trying to achieve—to give it some form of elegance, but they wanted nothing to be precious. They live a very low-key life. They like stuff that’s good-looking, but they are not fancy.
ED: Was that the overall memo they gave you for the home?
KA: They wanted it to feel like a real home that was comfortable and related to the rustic architecture in the elements inside, in the finishes. But also a home that could communicate or connect a powerful modern-art collection and their interests in more contemporary pieces. How do we make this feel modern but not cold? That was a big thing, too. A lot of times, you can go really modern with an interior and say, “It looks beautiful in a photo, but I’m not sure.” They wanted it to be beautiful aesthetically but also to work for them in real time and in their real life as a family. Those were the directives. But they let me have freedom in finding things for them.
And you know how now everything is changing and we’re going to more remote designing via Zoom, Skype, etc.? I already was doing so much of that. This whole time. These homeowners lived in Manhattan. They came out a few times, and we had meetings in person. But the fact is we did a lot already in this manner, designing from afar. They also let me push the envelope. And they were so supportive of my carpet collection. There were so many designs and patterns of my own in that house that I did for them and then introduced into my collection.
ED: Speaking of your carpets, I was admiring the dining room in the barn, which features one of them. You said they didn’t want a formal dining room in the main house. But the dining room in the barn has such a coolness to it, completely free of any stuffiness.
KA: It’s such a large, open space. It was very interesting to lay out. It was one huge space with this beautiful copper ceiling. We created multiple seating areas. We created that dining space; we created an area with a giant Ping-Pong table. There’s a big flat-screen TV. So it can be used for entertainment and hanging out and also for special functions and holidays. And then the directive was, “Let’s make it fabulous.” But not precious. Personally, that’s my own taste. If you ask me to choose my favorite project from my portfolio, it’s this one. This is the project that is most like me. I have clients who like more formality. I can do all of it. And I love to do all of it, because if I had to do the same thing every time, I wouldn’t be inspired. But if it were me and I was the client, this is the house I would live in.
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