Calm, Cool, Collected
With a meticulous approach, designer Michael S. Smith transformed a bare-bones Pacific Palisades home into a study of traditional elegance.
The words “spec house” and the name Michael S. Smith aren’t typically uttered in the same conversation, let alone the same sentence. Smith, who is Los Angeles’ celebrated king of cozy elegance, is known for creating lush, layered interiors in distinguished homes for clients such as Dustin Hoffman, Steven Spielberg and President and Mrs. Obama. Cookie-cutter layouts and factory finishes just aren’t his thing.
Maybe that’s why it’s such a surprise to learn that this stately shingled house Smith designed in Pacific Palisades came into being eight years ago as a builder-issued dream house.
“It was a really well done, thoughtful spec on such a beautiful site,” says the designer, “but it was still a big project to elevate it and make it feel much richer.”
Certainly, the bones of a great house were in place: vast windows to take in the unobstructed green surroundings, weathered gray shingles that echo the gray of the mist and fog that rolls in from the nearby coast, and generous outdoor spaces to enjoy year-round entertaining. But it wasn’t until one of the home’s owners happened to be seated next to Smith on a flight and the two began to chat that full interior reimagining was commissioned.
“My husband came home and said, ‘I just met the greatest guy on the plane. I don’t know if he’s any good, but I like him,’” says the homeowner.
Smith began by swapping out fireplace mantels, pushing back the yard and improving the flow of the layout, making it more conducive to an active family’s life, and separating public spaces from private ones.
“Our challenge was to add interest and give it a sense of complexity, giving each of the rooms a different feeling,” Smith explains. “We took this Connecticut kind of style and gave it a more sophisticated edge.”
His solution was to incorporate custom and artisanal touches whenever possible. The walls of the master bedroom, for example, were stenciled with a delicate white design. A hand-painted Chinese border adds some intrigue to the paneled dining room. A patterned fabric from Smith’s own line of textiles was also embroidered, by hand, to impart even more texture and intricacy. An outdoor dining pavilion, which has custom benches around its perimeter, is the quintessential spot for warm-weather gatherings. While the rooms all have their own distinct character, they’re linked by shades of cool blue and cream, deep, cozy custom seating and thoughtful textiles, like antique and custom rugs, throughout.
“I’m maybe a little more high maintenance than most of Michael’s clients, because I can be uncertain. I like to see a room evolve,” explains one of the homeowners. “But to me, what’s amazing about Michael is not that he develops a whole concept at once but that he keeps adding to it. We started with rugs, then the fabrics, and then he would show up with the most unexpected thing that just worked. He’s always so right.”
Written & edited by Christine Lennon.
PHOTOS: Lisa Romerein.