Walking on Sunshine: In Malibu with Designer Vanessa Alexander

Subtle hints of color brighten the home’s neutral-toned palette.

Alexander organizes design materials in her home-based office and studio.

Plank floors of reclaimed wood and a vintage chest lend a rugged feel to the light-filled hallway.

At the Golden state’s sun-soaked coast, spending time anywhere but en plein-air in its ocean-scented breeze is nearly criminal.

No one understands this better than Vanessa Alexander, owner of Alexander Design, who lives and works in the surf-and-sand playground of Point Dume, Malibu, with her husband and three sons.

Industrial ‘Explosion’ pendants c. 1930 top a 19th-century bakery counter that now serves as a kitchen island.

“Our focus was to create an indoor-outdoor flow and a strong connection to the environment,” notes the designer, describing their 7,000-square-foot, five-bedroom residence as “a fusion of an Italian farmhouse and California beach home.” She continues, “I take reference from the surroundings and the beauty of the environment.”

Light floods in through the living room windows, where Alexander’s own custom sofas, an antique Khotan rug and a quirky Lindsey Adelman light fixture paint a minimalist palette and play with the room’s layered textures.

“Our focus was to create an indoor-outdoor flow and a strong connection to the environment,” describing their five bedroom residence as “a fuson of an Italian farmhouse and California beach home.”

Airy and light-filled, with a nod to Scandinavian and Belgian minimalism, the home challenges Malibu’s somewhat ostentatious rep with the coast’s laid-back vibe. Set amidst acres of woods, the whitewashed exterior could well belong at a Tuscan hillside, yet there’s an unmistakable Cali flavor that taps into the heart of the surf-town culture.

An Agape standalone tub and custom accessories by Alexander define a bright master bath retreat; textured walls, neutral shades and pared-down fixtures highlight the guest baths and powder room.

“It’s sophisticated but still comfortable and accessible,” comments Alexander, who has completely revamped the house from its original 90s interior.

“It was in pretty rough condition,” Alexander remembers. “Dark wood, parquet, green marble, black-and-white tiling.” Starting from scratch, Alexander brought in a muted spectrum of whites and grays, with only the occasional accessory for color.

“The tonal palette was intentional so that you are always drawn outside,” she explains. “The goal was to take advantage of the land and encourage indoor-outdoor living.” To that end, several interior walls were removed for better flow and openness, with gray tones and natural plaster replacing dark timber, to lighten and aerate.

Rugged textures take a cue from the geography: scaffolding planks and hemp rugs line the floors; weathered woods star in tables and benches; and time-worn vintage leather wraps sofas and chairs. An entry hall outfitted in reclaimed limestone leads into the crisp white living room, where a stretch of windows frames the mountains beyond.

Natural tones and textured fabrics outfit a bed frame designed by Alexander in the master suite; a 1960s bedside table completes the soothing space.

Pared-down, easy spaces allow plenty of room for work and play.

A light-soaked sunroom invites lazy days; a window seat sofa, hemp rug and 20th century coffee table are a nod to the surf-town’s laid-back vibe.

It was my favorite part of the renovation,” reveals Alexander. “Previously most of the windows only looked to the front to the street so I made sure to incorporate more windows throughout which opened up the view. It constantly evolves as the light changes during the day, like living art.”

A dramatic Paris Opera photograph by Bill Henson makes a striking statement in the living room, one of Alexander’s favorites from the photography collection she shares with her husband.

“We don’t buy that often, but when something really moves us, we try to make it happen,” says Alexander, who also admits to “a relentless obsession” with collecting vintage chairs. A pair of aged leather armchairs accent the living room, while Knoll Chairs upholstered in outdoor fabric surround the custom Corian dining table. In the guest-house-turned-office, Mies van der Rohe Chairs play alongside a rare Serge Mouille wall lamp and an Eero Saarinen table for client conferences.

Another passion is lighting: from a vintage Indian brass pendant in the sunroom, to the midcentury lights in her office, or Workstead’s industrial pendant chandelier over the dining table.

“I tend to be heavy on textures, a variety of metals, as well as drawing from many periods and styles,” comments Alexander, who comes upon many of her finds by scouring auctions and antique dealers. She adds, “my hunt never seems to end.” One of her all-time loves is the wheeled kitchen island, originally from a 19th-century bakery yet perfectly at home in the contemporary space.

“A swimming pool overlooking the mountains; a canopied outdoor sitting room and a sauna nestled in the trees make full use of the Golden State’s year-round sunshine.

“It was very important for me and my family to make it easier to utilize the outdoor space,” comments Alexander. “If a home is beautiful but doesn’t live well, it is not a successful design. I wanted to create more than an aesthetically beautiful environment; one that both reflects and bolsters our lifestyle.”

Photography courtesy of Tessa Neustadt.

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