Written and Produced by Jenny Bradley
Photography by Joe Schmelzer
A new Mediterranean-style home in Pacific Palisades is a study in elegant restraint.
Thankfully, Klaas and Dede Vlietstra don’t believe in bad omens. Having just bought a beautiful home in Pacific Palisades, California, the Vlietstras intended to make only small modifications before moving in. Unfortunately, they learned that good intentions only get you so far.
“Once we really started poking around, we found things that we simply couldn’t live with,” remembers Dede. “There had been five separate additions put on the house, the wiring was poorly done, and, in places, the insulation had been done with newspaper. It was a huge fire hazard.”
Starting over seemed easier, so they called architect Thomas Proctor and began the two-year process of razing it and building the Mediterranean-style home they had always wanted.
Craving a home for upcoming holiday celebrations with their family—including children Nicholas, 18, and Barbara, 16—they pushed to move in before Thanksgiving, ignoring the fact that the house wasn’t yet complete. “We had temporary power at first,” recalls Dede. “We lived like that for a few weeks, and then—the day before Thanksgiving—we lost all power. The food was spoiling before our eyes.”
While a massive power failure on Thanksgiving eve might have sent most homeowners sprinting for the closest take-out joint, the Vlietstras finally had luck—and persistence—on their side. A few hours into total darkness (and more than a few calls to the utility company), an employee from the power company happened to drive by and obligingly saved the day.
“We literally flagged him down and begged him to help,” says Dede. “I hate to admit it, but I might have even turned on the tears.” The waterworks obviously worked. Power was restored, Thanksgiving dinner preparation continued, and the family moved on to phase two of their premature move-in.
“We were so busy with the rebuild we completely forgot that we had to furnish the house,” laughs Dede. “We thought we could do it ourselves, then woke up one morning and realized we’d painted our bedroom Pepto-Bismol pink. We called Catherine immediately. She absolutely rescued this house.”
Designer Catherine Bailly Dunne remembers it differently. “I was blessed that Klaas and Dede knew quality. It was just a matter of helping them pick out the things they loved.”
Although the house is large, architect Proctor paid special attention to creating rooms that are manageable in size. “I never feel as though I need to shout to be heard,” says Dede. “I didn’t want a house that seemed too large.”
It may not be Versailles, but step through the Mediterranean-style facade, past the courtyard fountain designed by Klaas, and into the groin-vaulted front entry, and this home feels more South of France than Southern California.
The restrained color scheme is infused with Provence-inspired yellows and blues, with hints of eucalyptus blue thrown in for good measure—this is California, after all. Gilt-frame Louis XVI-style chairs (with French blue upholstery, of course) hold court in the dining room. Bergères are sprinkled throughout. Even the Christmas decor has Francophile tendencies—petite Eiffel towers dangle from tree limbs and dot tabletops.
“If I’d had my way entirely, I probably would have picked out even more French antiques,” says Dede. “Catherine helped me balance it with more up-to-date pieces.”
“No one wants over-the-top,” notes Dunne. “That’s not how people live. It doesn’t look authentic. You want to mix antiques with more contemporary pieces.”
Over the holidays, the family congregates in the well-used living room—designed with entertaining in mind. Two large velvet-clad sofas face each other in the center of the room, flanking the carved marble mantel designed by Proctor. Pairs of bergères, tucked into quiet corners like smitten teenagers, are impeccably placed for those intimate tête-à-têtes.
The living room’s wall color, a perfect foil for rich walnut woodwork and refined French furnishings, was inspired by an unusual source. “We just couldn’t find the perfect shade of white,” says Dede. “The painter walked in one morning wearing a white T-shirt, and I said, ‘That’s it! That’s the white I want.’ Our living room is now the color of our painter’s T-shirt.”
In the sparingly furnished dining room, an opulent Murano glass chandelier betrays its Italian roots, socializing with French antiques and reproductions—its understated golden hue playing off the gilded chairs below. Shimmery pinecones and those ubiquitous Eiffel towers festoon the family’s antique dining table throughout the holiday season, and the occasional modest wreath or garland will be espied, but overall, decorations are kept to a minimum.
“I’ve accumulated things over time, but I try to keep Christmas decorations simple,” says Dede. “To me, it makes the things you do put out all the more meaningful.”
While the interiors might be described by some as formal, Dunne’s marching orders were strictly this: Keep it livable. “Believe it or not,” says Dede, “the suede dining chairs have never been a problem. We’ve even had the kids making gingerbread houses with frosting in the dining room. That’s the house we wanted to live in. Elegant but user-friendly.”
The same rule applies to the kitchen. Visitors might find stains on the marble countertop (the better to remember holiday spills past) and dishes from a recent dinner piled in the generous apron-front sinks, but that’s how Dede likes it. “I was adamant that I wanted personality in this house,” she says. “It’s evident that we live here. And I love that. It’s life.”
Upstairs, the lofty master bedroom is well-suited for Klaas, whose 6-foot-4-inch frame made diminutive pieces impossible. The painted four poster’s generous proportions offer a prominent perch from which the couple can gaze out over the canyon that slopes off just beyond their back door. The ideal place for a little daydreaming—or travel planning.
“The best thing about this house is that it could be in France. It could be anywhere,” says Dede. “It’s like we’re on vacation, except that at the end of the day I have to do the dishes.”
Architect: Thomas Proctor, Thomas Proctor Architects, 8650 Holloway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90069; 310/659-2125.
Interior designer: Catherine Bailly Dunne, ASID, Catherine Bailly Dunne Interior Design, Inc., 16738 Bollinger Drive, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272; 310/454-4047.