This home is an explosion of color, light and rock’n’roll.
You might expect the interior of a house in an oceanside community to be awash in the cool blue, sandy beige and seashell white colors of its serene landscape. But Natalie Umbert’s bold decorating choices are an unexpected alternative to traditional coastal décor.
Natalie, an interior designer, was born in Peru, a country whose people’s love of vibrant colors has been woven into their cultural fabric. Although she lived in several places throughout her life, Natalie’s attraction to the vivid colors of her birthplace has remained with her.
“There are so many beautiful colors and patterns in the marketplace that I am always inspired,” she says, regarding the décor of the 1940s-built home she shares with her 8½-year-old daughter, Carolina. It is the first home she designed for herself, even though she has worked as an interior designer for many years. “I had designed everyone else’s home but not my own. It was about putting down roots—it was a big commitment and a way of saying goodbye to other things,” she says.
Natalie classifies her home as a California beach bungalow but more traditional in feel, with wood siding, shutters, window boxes and a front porch. It has two “public” rooms (a living/dining room and a family room/den), a kitchen, three small bedrooms and two bathrooms.
The idea of living in a vintage home appealed to her. “I love places with some history. They tend to have wonderful energy and a cozy, well-worn feel—plus a few quirky elements from periodic remodels, etc.,” she says.
She found herself attracted to the neighborhood as much as to the house itself. “I like that the family that built the house owned it until recently, and that the house across the street is still owned by the original family as well,” Natalie says. “In fact, I have often spoken with the kids who grew up across the street who are now middle-aged and listened to their stories of what it was like to grow up here. It was great, like Main Street, USA. It reminds me of the movie “Stand by Me”—it was the great American beachside place to grow up. There was a sense of roots back then; now everyone is so transient. The neighbor’s kids asked if I wanted anything from their house, so I took some medals from a square-dancing competition their parents competed in many years ago that have the sense of nostalgia that I like.”
Natalie was fortunate in that her home was move-in ready when she bought it, so that meant she could get started on her decorative improvements right away. At the top of her list was adding light fixtures. “The house had great windows, so lots of natural light, but not enough artificial lighting. I used low-voltage can lights in the kitchen and hallway, and put sconces in the bedroom because there wasn’t room for floor lamps. Next, I painted the entire house a soothing gray-blue, but it looked a bit forlorn. What the house really needed was color. So I experimented with various shades of bright orange, yellow and green—and voila!
“From the sidewalk, the house seems very traditional,” she says. “It is painted an off-white and has navy-blue shutters and a fishing reel for a mailbox. When you walk across the pavers, up to the porch and to the front door, you would expect to find a more subdued space than what you see when you open the door and are greeted by walls painted in Lemon Drop (yellow) and Flower Pot (orange).”
Although they are separate, the living/dining and family/den rooms are visible from one another, so the same bold colors—such as turquoise, aqua, yellow, green and fuchsia—are carried through to work with the flow of the rooms.
“The ‘foyer’ is actually just a narrow wall where I placed an iron and marble demi-lune table and mirror that belonged to my great-grandmother,” Natalie says. “However, if you look past this wall to the larger one in the dining room, you will see an extraordinary orange, yellow, gold and green abstract painting by Bradford Stewart.” The living/dining area features a traditional sofa upholstered in an off-white cotton fabric, punched up with some whimsical ‘fruit’ pillows by Jonathan Adler and some yellow and white crewel pillows. For additional seating, Natalie chose a wing chair and a Philippe Starck Ghost chair. Windows on three sides of the room provide abundant light and also serve as a place for Natalie to display some of her vintage rock ‘n’ roll album collection. Most of the home’s windows are covered with Bermuda shutters that were painted white. Leaning on top of the shutters are classic albums by The Eagles, Billy Joel, Elton John, Aerosmith and Pat Benatar. Natalie says she may display her albums on an entire wall in the future.
The dining area includes a dark wood table and modern Klismos-style chairs with a linen faux bois (French for “false wood”) embroidered fabric by Kelly Wearstler on the seats. The room’s sparkle comes from a vintage La Barge gold-leafed and painted chinoiserie mirror and a gold and crystal chandelier by Thomas Pheasant for Baker. Vintage teacups and a crystal decanter collection remind Natalie of her late mother, whose china and crystal collections are among Natalie’s most cherished possessions.
The focal point of the family room is a tufted bench sofa from Barclay Butera upholstered in light turquoise.
The dining area blends a traditional dark wood table with modern Klismos-style chairs. A vintage La Barge gold-leaf chinoiserie mirror and gold and crystal chandelier by Thomas Pheasant make the room glow.
Flanking the sofa is a pair of vintage orange-lacquered James Mont-style Asian lounge chairs with a multicolored stripe fabric. The center table, although wood, is painted to look like shimmering concrete. Modern wood side tables complement the tufted sofa and the swirling movement of the Asian chairs. In the corner is a white Saarinen-like tulip table with a pair of Lucite chairs that mirror the sleek white entertainment cabinet on the opposite wall. Family photos and a Harper’s Bazaar cover reproduction hang above the table. A large sunburst mirror adorns the wall above the fireplace, leading the eye to the far wall in the living room where another abstract painting dominates the space in a combination of turquoises and aquas bisected by a thick horizontal red stripe.
Carolina’s bedroom is quite small, so Natalie painted vertical one-inch pinstripes around the room to make it feel taller and larger. The furniture is in traditional cottage style, but to make it more dynamic Natalie used a mix of patterned linens—toile, surf and cheetah—and hung gold-framed vintage Barbie sketches around the room.
The master bedroom took the longest to complete. Natalie originally painted the walls in Benjamin Moore’s Lemon Drop, which was used in the living/dining room, but the slanted ceilings made the room seem even smaller than it is, so she decided to use a similar painting technique as in Carolina’s room—however this time, instead of applying vertical stripes to highlight the height of the ceiling, she added 27-inch-wide horizontal stripes in Flower Pot (a light coral orange from Ace Hardware) around the room but stopped painting when the top stripe hit approximately 7 feet. “This ‘trick’ helps guide the eye downward and makes the space feel much more comfortable,” Natalie explains. “Due to the lack of space, I was very selective about the furniture that I chose to fill it. Every piece needed to be practical without sacrificing style. Instead of buying a real headboard, I designed a faux one. I applied one my favorite wallcoverings—Chiang Mai Dragon from F. Schumacher and Co.—to the wall and framed it with a painted wood molding that anchored the bed in the room.” The bedside table, a petite vintage rattan writing desk and chair that Natalie painted cranberry, works double duty as a workspace or vanity. For seating, she placed her great-grandmother’s French settee at the foot of the bed. On the wall opposite the bed is a vintage Asian latticework hutch that
Natalie uses to store and display her books, vintage teacup collection, costume jewelry and handbags.
The interior designer’s success in decorating her home using bold, colorful brushstrokes has persuaded many guests and clients who had been reluctant to take the plunge into color to do the same.
For more information on Natalie Umber, visit atelierinteriordesign.com.
By Meryl Schoenbaum
Photography by Mark Tanner
Styled by Jacqueline deMontravel