Your Travel Souvenirs Would Look So Much Better as Decor. Here’s How to Do It
This Newport Beach couple transformed their tiny treehouse into a family home that seamlessly blends indoor-outdoor living with vintage heirlooms and mementos from their travels.
Trends come and go, but memories can last a lifetime. That’s how Jeff Robson and Nadia Barienbrock approached the redesign of their Southern California home.
When the couple initially moved into the cottage set entirely above their garage, they knew it would eventually be a teardown. But in the years before their family doubled in size, they cozied up in what felt like a treehouse, often entertaining in a large front yard.
Fast forward a few years: With no room for a crib within the 800-square-foot footprint (“unless it was in our living room,” Barienbrock quips), the Newport Beach couple moved out and started brainstorming. They needed more space but wanted to honor the integrity of the 1930s home, a structure with windows on every wall. They wanted to incorporate the outdoor living they’d become accustomed to; they knew exactly where the property got the best light and views. And they wanted to do it themselves.
At the time, Barienbrock worked as the head apparel designer for action sports companies Vans and Hurley. Robson worked in architectural sales with a background in landscape design. So, he learned the design programs to sketch out a 3-D floor plan and exterior rendering before bringing the ideas to local architect William Guidero, who brought the designs to life. Like many lots close to the beach in Newport, this one had limited space. They drew up a U-shaped home that extended nearly the length of the long, narrow lot with floor-to-ceiling sliders on three interior walls, creating a secluded courtyard that still allowed for indoor-outdoor living with privacy.
The result is a 4,500-square-foot family home that’s warm and inviting, where the courtyard firepit feels as much a part of the living space as the foyer’s vintage sofa reupholstered in Ralph Lauren fabric. Midcentury pieces abound, from the living room coffee table built by Barienbrock’s late architect grandfather to the watercolor paintings he completed during the Depression while out of work. They didn’t want to create an environment where guests might walk in and feel like they couldn’t touch anything; they wanted materials and furnishings that could age.
Custom cabinetry in the kitchen features natural walnut with cast brass hardware. Hand-hammered railing climbs up the stairway, inspired by lived-in, weathered banisters. Barienbrock started bringing home trinkets from her travels after many visits to her grandparents’ household where the shelves were lined with “the most beautiful, interesting things,” each with a story. Baskets soon turned into Moroccan rugs turned into the cluster of glass pendants now hung in the stairwell, originally found on a vacation in Mexico.
“Every time Jeff and I go somewhere, we’ll pick up something that’s really meaningful that we want to hand down,” Barienbrock says.
She wanted to make sure the house didn’t become a project to “keep redoing as an interior designer every couple years.” The quilts from a trip to India that now cover the beds of 6-year-old Jasper and 4-year-old Oona “have memories attached,” she says. “They make you smile. It’s not something that you look at, like why did I follow that trend?”
In the same way, they wanted the house to grow up with the kids; not to be designed around the immediate needs of their young family. A long hallway upstairs that creates a wide separation between the kids’ bedrooms and their parents’ was “intentional” in anticipation of teenage years, says Barienbrock, who now works as the lead designer for Orange County-based Prairie Interiors.
Outside, Robson designed and installed all the drought-tolerant landscaping featuring only California native plants. Catalina ironwood trees surround the firepit, along with native ferns and edibles like native strawberry and mint. Robson says he wanted plants that the kids could “get their hands in,” an approach they echoed with the interior.
Ultimately, that means you can find young Jasper with paper and crayons in hand in virtually any corner of the house, from the custom concrete countertops to the cushions surrounding the firepit. Two outdoor lounge chairs there are covered in stylish removable covers—a comfortable perch for a budding artist who may color outside the lines, from parents with an eye for design details that will withstand the test of time.
Get the Look
Equipale chairs and an oak table anchor the dining room with a woven pendant and hammock from a trip to Mexico.
A cozy courtyard in the back of the home features an outdoor shower and hot tub.
Oona, 4 (left), and Jasper, 6, read books on a bed outfitted with a quilt from their parents’ trip to India.
In the master bedroom, the couple paired vintage lamps and tables with raw linen bedding and a tapestry brought home from a trip.
A concrete tub, woven pendant, and white plaster walls set the mood in the master bathroom.
An African mask is just one of many treasures shipped home from the family’s travels.
A tapestry hangs above a bed in the guest room.
The home office is just across the hallway from the master bedroom.