What sold designer Julie Neil on her Northern California home was its good bones. Constructed in the 1920s as a summer retreat, the cottage had charming built-in cabinetry, deep moldings and large picture windows—but needed some updating. "Fortunately, we didn't have to knock down any walls or do anything major, so we focused on bringing the space back to life with fresh paint and cosmetic changes," says Julie. When it came to decorating, she went with soothing whites, natural woods and simple accessories that let the architecture shine. "There's nothing super fancy about my style," says Julie. "It's California, after all, so you don't need carpeting or formal furniture." Each of the light-filled rooms reflects her less-is-more philosophy, from understated furnishings and undressed windows to the display of a few objects that matter most to her and her husband, Dan Deffner—souvenirs from family vacations and artwork that their children Georgia, now 17, and Charlie, now 14, have created over the years. "Use what you love, and you'll end up with a space that makes you happy."
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House Tour: Modern Vintage Home
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Julie found the midcentury modern chairs at a local vintage shop and reupholstered the seats with a trellis-print fabric. The farmhouse dining table cost just $400 at a warehouse sale. She added cushions to the window bench, which can handle additional dinner-party guests.
"The persimmon sofa in the sunroom complements the walnut floors and bentwood chairs," says Julie. She cut down the base of a round dining table to fit in front of the couch. Decorative pillows, a double gourd lamp and a cheery yellow side table add shots of bold color.
A Steinway upright—a secondhand steal at just $150—sits opposite the dining area, a quiet place where Georgia can practice. On the wall above hangs an old door painted by their friend, artist Arno Cornillon.
Julie accented the wall behind her bed with large-scale floral wallpaper. To add extra interest, she draped a striped Mexican blanket over the upholstered headboard. "I love layering, and the beauty is that it can be changed out on a whim for a whole new look," says Julie. Pillow shams made from traditional sari remnants and a block-print quilt bring a global feel to basic linens.
Most of the kitchen cabinetry was in good shape, so instead of replacing it, Julie and Dan, a builder, painted the upper cupboards and pantry a bright white. Since Julie liked the look of open shelving, she removed two sets of doors along one wall and had lower cabinets and drawers installed. The new beadboard-clad island, outfitted with a marble counter and a cooktop, is a favorite breakfast spot. Julie chose an orange subway tile backsplash to spice up the color scheme.
Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.