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Casual, Family-Friendly California Home

2014 New Trad designer Kriste Michelini puts the finishing touches on her own family home (her fourth!) in Alamo, California

Written by Abigail Stone

Often it’s while decorating their own homes that creative types are bitten by the design bug. Certainly, that’s when Kriste Michelini first felt the urge. However, it wasn’t until she found herself hiring a nanny so she could help out her friends with their homes that she realized it had become more than a hobby.   

In the living room, two armchairs and a custom sofa covered in a linen velvet from Kravet form a cozy grouping around an Oly Studio coffee table.

Now she’s on a roll. The Alamo, California, home she recently finished is the fourth she’s designed for herself and her family. And while the house initially had many elements she loved, it needed work. “I have an affinity for New England-style homes,” Michelini says. This house fit the bill. The downside? A choppy floor plan and a rabbit warren of rooms that felt restrictive. So with the help of architect Esther Arnold, she knocked down walls and brought the structure more in line with the home she envisioned.  

An Oly side table is the perfect stage for a collection of favorite objects. The Donald Baechler painting is from his “Flowers” series.

The finished space, although spare, is inviting. “That surprises people,” the designer says. “Because it’s white, they expect it to be cold.” Instead, texture and hints of brown in the pale palette inject warmth. 

The custom-made bookcase, backed with opaque glass, divides the entryway from the dining area. On display is an array of objects—ranging from pottery by Eva Zeisel to pieces from Thailand and Bali. 

An antique oak table with an intricate herringbone pattern comfortably seats 12. “Bond,” a wall sculpture created for this space by artist Sarah A. Smith, is made of recycled wood. The chandelier is from David Weeks Studio.

High contrast also plays a role, such as the expanse of chocolate-brown floors beneath the stark white walls. Juxtapositions—like the pairing of an exuberant David Weeks chandelier with an antique parquet table—keep things interesting. 

Wood stools from Cherner offer high contrast in the white-on-white kitchen. Sculptural drop pendants from Original BTC act as artwork above the island. A white glass backsplash from Karol updates the space and plays off the light fixtures.

The “Portica” table from Room & Board, wood chairs from Cherner, and a Saarinen upholstered chair bring warmth to the space. The drum fixture over the table is from Limn. 

Over the mantel, a drawing by British artist Chris Ofili is flanked by sconces from Thomas O’Brien’s collection for Visual Comfort. The vintage midcentury desk, discovered in Los Angeles, is paired with an Eames desk chair made even more welcoming with a white sheepskin from Design Within Reach. 

Foscarini’s “Caboche” chandelier adds a note of glamor to a Saarinen “Tulip Table” and Cherner side chairs. 

Not all of the rooms conform to the white-on-white directive. Michelini’s children’s rooms reveal that she’s just as comfortable with rainbow bright colors and patterns. “They need to reflect their individuality,” she says. 

In her son Mark’s room, Michelini tucked a white “Panton Chair” under a custom walnut desk. A ledge holds favorite objects and Mark’s artwork. The sheets are from Boodalee. The orange and green wall colors are from Benjamin Moore. The walnut ledge and white wall tie this room visually to the rest of the house. 

The custom shoe clock above son Matthew’s bed displays not only his shoes, but also a few from siblings Mark and Andie. Gray linens from Design Within Reach cool the room’s palette, giving it a masculine edge for a teenage boy. Custom floating nightstands topped with “Tolomeo Micro” lamps from Design Within Reach flank a bed from CB2. 

Beyond giving her children a design education, Michelini hopes that she’s also setting an example of the life that can be created by doing what you love. “When I’m on vacation, I can’t wait to get back to designing,” she says. She’s quick to add that, for her family’s sake, this is the last house renovation she plans to put them through. “They hate the process, even though they love the result,” she laughs.

The custom concrete trough sink reiterates the chambray blue of the David Hicks hexagon wallpaper from Cole & Sons. The fixtures are by Dornbracht.   

The “Chelsea” bed from Hickory Chair is lush with Frette linens. French doors lead to a balcony furnished with pieces from Janus et Cie. The custom nightstand is set off by a mirror from Williams-Sonoma Home.  

Sconces are from Visual Comfort, and medicine cabinets from RH hang above the custom vanity.

Designer Kriste Michelini painted teak furniture black and paired it with black-and-white pillows and black shutters on the house for a classic appeal. The wicker loveseat is from Lane Venture.

Kriste Michelini’s tips on infusing warmth into contemporary interiors:

  • Think texture. For window treatments, woven shades and fabric panels add softness. Velvet and cashmere throws and pillows provide additional layers of richness.
  • Focus on finishes. In the right tones, marble, concrete, and quartz provide visual warmth. A mix of metals and warm woods and moldings contributes to a home’s warmth.
  • Pay attention to seating. Multiple seating areas support different kinds of conversations—from intimate chats to larger discussions. Remember to always do a “sit test” on your furniture!
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of good lighting. A well-lit room glows. Use a combination of lighting—wall washers, table lamps, pendants, and floor lamps—to make a room really shine. 
  • Don’t forget the accessories. They are the icing on the cake and finish a room. The objects you love—framed photos, boxes, and pottery—tell your story and make a room spring to life.  

Photography: Angie Silvy

Traditional Home