The Life Aquatic
Oxnard’s low-key waterfront provides the perfect weekend playground for a Los Angeles family keen on impromptu boat rides and meandering walks on the beach.
From the outside, Brooke and Steve Giannetti’s Oxnard home looks like any other 1977 domicile: on a cul de sac, patch of lawn in front, slivers of cement down the sides, boat in back and 2,500 square feet in between. Inside, one imagines all the developer-given details of a tract home: sliding mirrored closets, cottage cheese ceilings, linoleum flooring—and a glistening canal out the back door that makes it all worth it.
As they say, location is everything, and in 2007, Brooke, an interior designer, and her husband Steve, an architect, were dead-set on buying a weekend beach house where they could relax with their three children (Charlie, 15, Nick, 12, and Leila, 8). They’d cooled on Malibu—too pricey, too crowded—and took a trip to Oxnard on a recommendation from Brooke’s parents. “We fell in love with the homes on the water and the laid-back town,” says Brooke. Six weeks later, they’d put a bid on a house. “We bought a boat while we were still in escrow,” she says. “So nutty.”
A sleepy town a few miles off the 101 interstate—with its strawberry fields, endless shoreline, and minimal number of tourists and city dwellers—Oxnard is by no means a design mecca. Both Brooke and Steve, co-owners of office-boutique Giannetti Home in Brentwood, were thrilled to be tinkering with a blank slate. Without having to please a client, the couple set out to make a functional 1970s home into an English cottage cooing with charm. “This house let me discover my own style,” says Brooke. It’s a style with many twists and turns, and a distinct romantic current underneath it all. Various Old World collections inhabit many corners of the home: Ship paintings populate the downstairs walls; antique architectural tools, globes, ornamental plasterwork, and large-scale shells fill the shelves on the landing overlooking the living room. “I love the feeling of worn leather books,” says Steve, who has gathered much of his collections at flea markets, and from the family business, a plaster shop in Maryland. Along with the ship paintings and shell collections, a longboard standing in the living room corner reminds visitors this is, in fact, a town built on canals, and the Pacific Ocean, not the Cotswolds, is just a few miles away.
Oxnard attracts many boaters and weekenders; adjacent to the Giannettis’ neighborhood, two newer groups of canals, Seabridge and Westport, were built in the last five years, boasting large, brand-new homes. Its beaches also offer some of the state’s best winter surfing conditions. The Giannettis have embraced the windy beaches with the 10-foot span of sporting kites. “They’re pretty radical,” says Steve, who watched one of the kites pick up 15-year-old Charlie and carry him across the sand. “They’re a lot of fun.”
As designers and home junkies, moving to Oxnard has also allowed the Giannettis to use themselves as guinea pigs for some of their better ideas. Steve created a slimmer slipcovered sofa, one without a rolled back or arms, as a space-saving solution for smaller homes; Brooke turned her bedroom into a case study for infusing a plain and utilitarian room with old world romance. Tall, weathered shutters flank the living room’s sliding glass doors on the interior; loads of plaster covers the fireplace’s original lava rock; all of the yellow pine ceiling beams were glazed with white paint; impractical white plush carpeting gave way to wall-to-wall seagrass.
Because Brooke had always wanted a luxurious European bathroom, she blew out the master closets and broke into an adjacent bedroom to create a large, open tileless bathroom (only stone floors and a frameless shower with limestone slab walls). A 300-year-old Swedish cabinet became a double basin, with faucets affixed to the wall to accommodate its narrow shape. Brooke also realized her fantasy of having a skirted tub, ordering one from the English company Bathworks.
The rest of the house blends Steve’s industrial sensibility with Brooke’s passion for Swedish antiques and, says Brooke, “They happen to work well together.” There’s still an unfinished bedroom upstairs, and some landscaping to do in front, but the Giannetti’s work-in-progress is mostly complete. Brooke now directs her passion for design into a blog, Velvet & Linen, that’s become (to her, surprisingly) popular, and last year was named one of The Washington Post’s “Top Ten Picks to Click.” The family makes the 70-minute drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to Oxnard virtually every weekend. “Otherwise, I’ll just work,” says Brooke, who loves the convenience of taking a boat ride out to the Channel Islands for the day or just trolling the neighboring channels; flying kites; inviting friends up for the weekend; or planning barbeques on the back patio overlooking the water. “It’s a great change of pace from the hectic L.A. scene,” says Brooke. “Just a sleepy, coastal town filled with friendly, down-to-earth people.”
By Sally Schultheiss.
Photo: Lisa Romerein.