“I knew this was going to be the kind of project to make my career,” says Los Angeles-based designer Ryan White, describing his first design challenge—the renovation of an overwrought pink, turquoise, and glass-block ’80s beach house for two entertainment-industry gents he had just met on vacation in the Mediterranean.
“We had them over for drinks back at our house in Los Angeles,” White says. “We knew they lived in a modern, James Bond-type house in the Hollywood Hills, so before they came over, I wasn’t even sure if they would like our house!” he says, laughing.
But the couple fell in love with “the chill vibe” that White had created in his own home, along with the designer’s brand of young-American-meets-collected-comfort aesthetic. So much so, in fact, that his new friends-turned-clients handed him the keys to their just-purchased getaway house on Malibu’s only private off-leash beach and gave him total design freedom. “They didn’t need to see anything until the day of the reveal,” White says, still showing the same enthusiasm and gratitude for their trust as the day he landed the job.
Cherry-red Adirondack chairs from World Market and striped cushions from Pottery Barn provide inexpensive and easy-to-replace seaside seating around the concrete fire pit.
The secret to his success was the same as for many Hollywood creatives: total focus and immersion. (He did come to L.A. to be an actor, after all.) “I literally went there every single day for the next 10 weeks,” White says. “At times, I even slept over to receive early-morning deliveries.”
His vigilance in managing the project—which involved gutting and stripping the entire house back to a clean slate with bleached blond floors, as well as creating custom furnishings with an industrial-meets-vintage-glam feel—paid off. The tight move-in deadline was met with every well-edited detail in place.
White filled the newly refined shell with just the right mix of masculine pieces. A coffee table designed to resemble a washed-up piece of driftwood graces the living room. Unpretentious West Elm curtains don’t compete with the surfside views. “I designed the house as if it were my own,” White says.
A custom burl wood coffee table recalls a piece of washed-up driftwood and complements a gray and chrome sofa from B&B Italia upholstered in cozy heather gray cashmere.
Designer Ryan White placed heavy-duty director chairs of blackened steel and olive-green suede around a custom brass-based table with a slate top. He chose brass for its ability to patinate beautifully over time. White worked closely with Argent Custom Furniture to create the one-of-a-kind pieces.
White created the teak chaise longue pieces and topped them with a chic gray-and-white mini-striped cushion, lending a South of France note to the deck. Umbrellas are from Room & Board.
Above the Williams-Sonoma rattan bed hangs White’s shot of mossy green marine life on Las Flores Beach in Malibu. “I took the photograph when the water was at very low tide, and my clients couldn’t believe this was right outside their front door!”
White filled the RH iron shelves with coral, rocks, and crystals he picked up at Pasadena and Santa Monica antique collectives. He enjoys including a bust of Kennedy, Lincoln, or some other classic American icon “who stands for good things,” says White.
“Every piece—every book, every coffee cup, every piece of art and locally made furniture—was chosen with the thought of how I would want to live in a beach house. I asked myself, ‘What would make me happy every day? Would I want this in my home?’ If I’m excited, chances are my clients are going to be excited, too.”
White selected more than 700 books, old National Geographic magazines, rare objets d’art, and accessories to grace the built-in bookshelves.
A dreary, narrow gym space was repurposed into a tip-top working space with twin desks facing the Pacific Ocean. Vintage chairs are paired with West Elm desks. Red lamps from West Elm carry the outdoor palette inside.
White fit the L-shaped kitchen/bar with a mirror to maximize the sea views. Open shelving and art from friends add a casual appeal.
A slipcovered sectional and ottoman from Cisco are beach-friendly and cozy, yet still chic.
A vintage blueprint of a boat from Hollywood at Home crowns the Crate & Barrel headboard. Bright nautical-striped pillows from Haus Interiors, bedding from RH, and nightstands from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams complete the space.
A large-scale wicker sectional from RH offers an ideal perch for sunsets. Slatted candle holders from Haus Interiors offer mood lighting while adding sculptural appeal.
Ryan White’s tips on designing the perfect beach house
- Bleach it. Crisp white walls, bleached-out floors, and woodwork painted matte white refresh a tired interior.
- Simplify. Keep only the pieces that make you happy and that you want to live with every day.
- Make it easy. How far do you want to go to refill your drink or to get another serving of guacamole? Consider a bar or mini kitchen near your outdoor areas.
- Unfuss the view. Window coverings don’t have to be elaborate, especially when the crashing surf is your view.
- Make it personal. Blow up your own snapshots to create art-sized memories on your beach-house walls.
Photography: Stephen Busken