They Reinvented the ’80s Beach Condo: No Anchors, No Seashells, Just Cool Coastal Colors
Los Angeles-based interior decorator Kristi Bender returns to the San Diego-area beach of her childhood, and transforms a nondescript condo into a teen-approved retreat.
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Take one look at this condo in Solana Beach, just north of San Diego, and scratch all of the things you think you know about coastal decor off of that tired list. Nothing is blue. There are no awning stripes. And there isn’t a nautical or marine motif in sight. When Kristi Bender, an interior and furniture design partner at Cuff Studio in Los Angeles, and her husband Chris decided to invest in a beach condo just a few doors down from her parents, they knew they were embracing a beachier lifestyle—but they wanted to do it their way.
“I grew up coming to this beach every summer,” says Bender. “My grandparents were some of the first owners here at the Solana Beach and Tennis Club. I’ve been coming here since I was about 7. My parents were teachers and educators, and they owned a beach property here as a rental for extra income. I think I’ve been in every single unit in this complex.”
Last year, when the Benders found themselves stuck in their house in Hollywood under quarantine with their two teenage girls, the beach retreat that Kristi had taken for granted for so long held a unique appeal.
“We rented a place here for a few weeks for Chris and the girls to work and go to school from home. I was so busy with work that I had to stay in L.A.,” she says. “I never thought for a minute that it was a place I’d want to live. But the more time we spent there, the more we loved it. The girls have freedom to walk into town. We’re so close to the beach steps that they’ll just walk down and jump in the ocean during breaks in their school day.”
The charm of the close-knit community, where people meet most nights around sunset on the beach walk, was equally appealing. Bender’s mother, Fran Dyer, organizes a boogie boarding club for about 20 senior women that meets at nearby Fletcher Cove, and the group was featured recently on Drew Barrymore’s talk show. There’s a small town, old California feel to the place.
So when a two-bedroom unit in need of some TLC came on the market they took the leap and got to work. They updated the kitchen and appliances, installed new durable flooring, and built what Bender calls a “teen loft”—with a custom photo collage by Tezza and a pile of floor cushions—carving the space out of a double-height ceiling near the stairway. The color palette, which is a refreshing, modern mix of mauve, lilac, warm yellow, and mossy green, is thoroughly unexpected for a beach house. The mood was inspired by a custom wall mural from Black Crow Studios, which Bender works with regularly on Cuff Studio projects.
“I’ve never designed a single lavender house before,” says Bender. “But it just felt right for this house. When it’s misty and foggy outside, the colors seems very soft and peaceful. Then when the sun comes out it brightens up a lot.”
She built custom pieces with artisans that work on Cuff furniture, like a brown velvet headboard with a wavy edge and rope-wrapped light fixtures (all available to to custom order from Cuff). A pink tile table, commissioned from Etsy vendor ModPivot, and cushions from the Parisian brand The Socialite Family elevate some more functional pieces, like a performance fabric sofa by Clad Home and the contract-grade dining chairs by Four Hands.
“It’s been fun for me to bring a little Cuff Studio style to Solana,” says Bender, who has enjoyed watching her two worlds, past and present, collide. “It’s friendly and fun, and you can just walk from one beach to the next. When I was a teenager, it wasn’t exciting to me. But my girls really love it. And it’s a special place for our family.”
The property is available as a rental starting this summer. Check out Solana Beach Bluff Break Condo for more.