Architect and designer Gulla Jónsdóttir shares how to get the aesthetic of a high-end boutique hotel in your living space without breaking the bank.

Sandbourne Santa Monica Front Desk Seating
Rob Benson

Gulla Jónsdóttir is an Icelandic architect known for her dynamic forms that have found their way into award-winning projects in the West like the La Peer Hotel, Palmilla in Newport Beach, and Sandbourne Santa Monica, the latter of which just opened. From her Los Angeles-based design studio, she shares insights on how to integrate organic beauty and function into your own home.

Gulla Jonsdottir Sandbourne Santa Monica
Gulla Jónsdóttir at Sandbourne.

Thomas J. Story

At the La Peer or the restaurant space at Palmilla there are lots of global influences and eclectic pieces that somehow don’t clash. What are some tips for how to bring elements of great hotel design into your own home without having it feel busy or disjointed?

Don’t be afraid to experiment and let your home reflect your personality and experiences. Bringing eclectic elements into your home is about finding balance and cohesion amidst diverse pieces. Ultimately, creating a comfortable and welcoming space is about expressing your unique taste and style. Balance unique objects and plants by focusing on a cohesive color palette. You can mix modern and natural elements but maintain consistency in color or texture. Group similar items together for impact.

What’s the number one thing someone can do to elevate their living space to get that designer touch?

Invest in statement pieces like a unique rug or artwork that becomes the focal point. Quality over quantity can make a space feel designer-inspired. 

A key to your hospitality spaces is elegant, flattering lighting. What are some efficient and affordable ways to do this in the home?

Opt for layered lighting: a mix of overhead, task, and accent lighting. Install dimmer switches for versatility, and invest in LED bulbs for energy efficiency.

Sandbourne Santa Monica King City View
A room at Sandbourne.

Rob Benson

The spaces you design both soothe and surprise. What do you look to for inspiration? 

I look to nature often, from its calming colors to its surprising textures. Travel, art, and fashion also play a big role as well. For one of my most recent projects, Sandbourne Santa Monica, I drew inspiration from the two contrasting worlds of sand and city which creates a unique ambiance that encapsulates “sand chic.” It’s a concept that effortlessly merges the laid-back ease of coastal living with the sleek elegance and sophistication of modern urban design. Imagine a space where natural textures like woven fibers and soft linens coexist harmoniously with sleek, polished surfaces, contemporary art pieces, and minimalist accents. 

What are some of your favorite flea markets or thrifts for folks to shop at that might be lesser known that are in the West? 

I sometimes like to mix antiques; it brings history and warmth to the space we design. I like Lief in West Hollywood. Big Daddy’s Antiques is always good to find big statement architectural pieces. And the Rose Bowl Flea Market is always an adventure to find the one-of-a-kind piece.

Are there any websites for great deals that look high end? 

It’s always worthwhile to consider websites like Chairish or 1stDibs for unique, high-end pieces that might have a more accessible price point. 

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