This Ranch House Strikes the Perfect Balance Between Mid-century Design and Groovy ’70s Nostalgia
Amir and Treci Smith combined their similar vintage aesthetics in their Southern California home built as much for comfort as style. Read their story in an excerpt from the new design and history book, Aphrochic: Celebrating the Legacy of the Black Family.
Treci Smith and her husband, Amir, live in a Southern California home that was never intended to be owned by Black people. When it was first built, the original deed to the land was written with a racial covenant: a then–legally binding addendum stipulating that the home and the land it’s situated on could only be bought or sold by someone white. That they’ve spent the last 13 years frustrating the racist intent of the original landowner is only one of the many things that they enjoy about their home. Another is imagining that person’s face if they could see what they’ve done with it.
The Smith estate is vast, with area enough to encompass a 2,300-square-foot main house, a 1,100-square-foot guesthouse, and an 800-square-foot studio office—with plenty of room to spare. Adding atmosphere to the home’s several structures is an expansive outdoor area, including a full lounge space, a garden (complete with chicken coop), and a pool. “And there’s still part of the yard that we haven’t even done anything with,” Amir says with a laugh.
Though they grew up in Southern California, both Treci and Amir originally hail from the Midwest. Their families arrived in the region in the 1920s and 1930s, having left the South during the early days of the Great Migration.
Treci comes from a traveling family. The youngest daughter of a Navy master chief, her family followed her father’s career to several stations before settling finally in San Diego. Yet her earliest memories are of a home in Indianapolis that they bought when she was 7.
“It was our first single-family home,” she remembers. And while the experience remains foundational for her, it’s one that she remembers more in essence than in detail. “I really only remember two things about that home,” she explains. “One was helping my dad build a deck out back. The other was that my mom had drawn Charlie Brown figures on the walls in the bedroom I shared with my sister. That’s it. It’s funny, but I can’t remember anything else.”
What did stick with Treci was the feeling of the home. “There was just this sense of security, having all of us in that home together. I have three siblings. It was the four of us growing up together, playing cards, listening to music. We moved a lot but that was my first memory, feeling safe at home.” It was a sensation that her mother carried to every home they had throughout her father’s career and that ignited Treci’s own interest in design.
“My mom taught me at an early age that different homes require a different design, different style,” she says, “which I think is how I inherited the design gene.” It was a lesson that would be repeated as the family left Indianapolis to make stops in the Bay Area and Virginia Beach. Then came San Diego and high school, where she would meet Amir.
Originally from St. Louis, Amir arrived in California with his mother following his parents’ separation. Prior to that, he lived in an apartment with his parents. His most vivid memories of home, however, are of the houses his grandparents owned, one of which his paternal grandmother still owns. “I remember the basement of that house was the music room. There were drums and a bar and, of course, a record player with a serious collection of jazz.”
After moving to California, home ownership would remain a distant dream for Amir’s mother, owing in part to punishing interest rates at the time. “We lived in apartments and in low-income housing,” he recalls. “Even though my mother was a working professional with a degree in accounting, we still couldn’t afford to buy a place.” It was an experience that would stay with him, shaping what would become a longtime interest in real estate.
Though the couple met in high school, they didn’t date initially. They exchanged numbers when they connected again years later, but both were in relationships. It wasn’t until both courtships had run their course that they found themselves gravitating toward each other. “It just felt right,” Treci says with a smile. “I knew that he would be my husband.”
Like their relationship, the design of Treci and Amir’s home is a seamless blend of their personal aesthetics that just feels right. Admittedly, it’s not a hard combination to achieve. “Our styles are pretty similar at this point,” Treci observes. “For one, we married so young that we kind of grew up together. It also helps that I like to design the interior while his aesthetic is more the outdoors.” It’s a dynamic that reminds her of her own parents, whose styles enjoyed a similar dichotomy.
The Smith family aesthetic is a blend of vintage and mid-century with a heavy nod towards the 1970s. Warm wood floors cover the whole of the interior, joined in the family’s open-plan dining and family room by a wood-paneled ceiling and a brick feature wall painted in a deep blue. Patterned chairs, long-necked vases, wicker baskets, and hanging plants all do their part in the room to complete the throwback feel. For both Treci and Amir, it’s a style that draws directly from the homes they grew up in. “Home always felt very warm,” Treci reminisces. “Lots of warm colors and furniture and texture that makes you feel like you want to just climb on the couch and nest.”
Even the wall decor carries a ’70s vibe. The back wall of the dining room boasts a brass sunburst piece, populated by small birds. Just beneath it sits the most important art piece in the house: a framed portrait of the couple on their wedding day.
Before they got married, Treci worked in finance and for an airline, while Amir took a job with a local utility company—a company he still works for today. Two years after the wedding, the couple marked the arrival of their first child, Zuri, who was followed by Zoe, Zamira, and finally Nicholas. For most of the time since their first arrival Treci has worked at home, caring for the children and crafting their environment.
Like the family room, the living room is built for comfort as much as for style. “With four kids, we can’t have a home that doesn’t function,” Treci says, laughing. “It’s one of the reasons I like mid-century so much. Everything’s so comfortable.” For Amir, the real focus of the room sits in the back: a vintage walnut record cabinet that holds a lot of memories. “My father had a room full of albums, a player, and a big pillow,” he recalls. “Of course there was Coltrane in there and Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Cole Porter. So in this room we kind of re-created that.”
In owning a home, Amir had captured something that had eluded his parents for some time. He saw the potential in real estate to provide not only a home for his family but a future. It was the coming to fruition of an idea that had been planted in him when he was a teenager. “I was 18 years old,” he begins, “and I was going to this barber, Mr. Gentry, who was like a grandfather to me. He had his shop, and he would buy houses here and there. He had 16 or 20 rental houses, and he would always tell me that real estate was the way to get my money working. And that really stuck in my head. I was just soaking it up.”
It started in the mid-’90s with Amir partnering with a coworker to purchase one house in Temecula, California. From there real estate became an ongoing part of their lives. Eventually, Amir and Treci began buying other properties in California and Indiana on their own. It was a process that opened new doors for Treci as well. “When we got ready to sell the first house, Treci staged it. It sold quickly, and we did well,” Amir says. “So that was like the aha moment for all of us.”
“I feel like it was something I always did,” Treci reflects, “but now it had a title.” It didn’t take long for people to ask if “stager” could also mean “designer.” “Suddenly I had friends and neighbors who would ask about what I could help them do in their homes.” Her dream has turned into a new profession, complete with an office space she had built in the backyard.
The business of home has been good to the Smiths, be it the home that they live in, the ones they’ve purchased, or the ones that Treci designs. The couple even transformed their detached garage into a guesthouse, which they run as a bed-and-breakfast. It’s also provided an ideal environment for their children to grow, learn, and find paths of their own. The group has pursued majors in anthropology, mechanical engineering, public health, and business, with Nicholas already looking to make his own entrée into the family business of buying and selling homes.
“He’s picked up a lot from both of us,” Treci says. “He likes design more than the girls, and he’s already trying to find a place for them to invest in together.” Seeing the story move into its next generation reinforces what Amir has always believed about the importance of owning a home.
“Anything’s possible,” he reflects. “Even if it’s a little condo or a little apartment or a little house, you can make it your own. If you can get this, it can change the direction of your family.”
Get the Book
AphroChic: Celebrating the Legacy of the Black Family Home $35, penguinrandomhouse.com.