This Mid-Century Surf Shack in Malibu Was Untouched for 30 Years—See How Kelly Wearstler Transformed It
It’s a project featured in her new book, Synchronicity.
Even if you’re not an interior design buff, you’re probably familiar with interior designer Kelly Wearstler’s work. Maybe you’ve set foot inside her commercial and hospitality work, whether it’s shopping at the Westfield Century City or visiting hotels like the Santa Monica Proper, Downtown Los Angeles Proper, or Viceroy Miami. You might have seen her work on the cover of magazines or seen one of her coffee table books. There’s no doubt that the Los Angeles-based designer has had a prolific career and her unique style and point of view has really had an impact on the interior design world.
Kelly just debuted a new book (her sixth!), Synchronicity (with words by Dan Rubinstein), which showcases eight of her recent residential and commercial interior projects—from a beach house in Malibu to the Proper hotels in Santa Monica, Downtown L.A., and Austin. The projects featured in the book are an example of Kelly’s design ethos, which is “finding synergy and consonance across the unexpected.” In the introduction, Kelly says that to her, “synchronicity is a moment of intentional action”—an opportunity for each partner (a client, an architect, her team, a landscape designer, or an artist) to take everything that they’ve learned and use it to create something new in harmony with the whole group.
You can see some of that “synchronicity” in this excerpt below from the book highlighting a mid-century home in Malibu that was untouched for nearly 30 years and renovated in a month and a half. For more design inspiration, buy the book here.
In this mid-century home in Malibu, the designer’s sense of personal style really shines. Chosen as a summer getaway for the family—all avid surfers who wanted a place where one could catch waves at a moment’s notice—it looks out onto the ocean from the back and has a garden in front. This unaltered gem sat unoccupied for nearly thirty years, and had original everything: elm wood wall paneling, dark terrazzo floors, shoji-style pocket doors, and even drapes.
Unlike most projects, which can take years to plan and execute, this was completed in just a month and half. The design integrity of the house was so high and it was so well maintained that the designer could focus more on art direction without the need for construction. Drawn from a decade’s worth of eclectic treasures kept in storage, the house is outfitted with sculptural and unusual pieces—including a 1950s Rope Lounge Chair that’s made from jute and steel by Dan Johnson—with just as much character as the architecture they’re living in.
At the heart of the house is a galley kitchen, with sliding windows that look out onto the garden. In fact, most of the structure’s plan uses various sliding windows and doors to take maximum advantage of natural light and the cool sea air.
The rest of the house’s proportions are very delicate; lower ceiling heights meant using chairs with matching lower seat heights than normal, and adding somewhat haphazardly placed art that feels a bit earthy. Some furniture pulls double duty, like a green, fiberglass coffee table in the lounge that doubles as a desk. It’s a play on textures. To add a sense of comfort to various sitting rooms, carpets are layered on top of one another—often a little smaller, so the furniture doesn’t have to be on the rug. Front legs on, back legs off. This trick gives the room more dimension.
Designers are frequently tasked with new projects that have more-than-speedy deadlines. In this case, doing something quickly meant learning how to use things in unexpected ways. Embracing a bit of chaos. Rather than choosing things that look too thematic, quick design can push you to find things in unexpected places that are more about creativity. You’re more open when it’s about the art of the find.
From Synchronicity by Kelly Wearstler and Dan Rubinstein © Rizzoli, 2023. Photography by The Ingalls.
Buy the Book
We only recommend things we love. If you buy something through our site, we might earn a commission.