“I would rarely be described as a minimalist,” says Jessica Barton, who designed her own home in a 1939 California bungalow in Orinda, California. She’s talking about her design aesthetic, but she could just as easily be describing the time she spent working on the project. Not only was she managing a complete restoration—new kitchen, renovated bathroom, new decor in all the bedrooms and living spaces—but she was also launching her own design firm, J Kathryn Interiors. And she had a baby on the way.
She also had help, she notes, from Georgina Rice in San Francisco. Since Barton was a new transplant to the Bay Area, Rice made a number of introductions to showrooms and workrooms, some of which supplied furnishings for the house, such as the custom-made living room window treatments. Throughout, the project incorporates a lot of custom upholstery, bright patterns and a mixture of vintage and contemporary abstract art.
“I love color, and I wanted every room to flow while also standing on its own,” Barton says. “Since the home was so small, it was important that you felt like you were in a different space in each room. That helped make it feel super special and more spacious than it was.”
In the end, everything worked out beautifully, and she ended up with 1,112 square feet of efficiently but stylishly designed space—a mix of her traditional southern maximalism, midcentury twists, cottage style, and contemporary flair, in line with the home’s original architecture.
“My rule is to make sure nothing looks too contrived,” says the designer. “If you’re someone who collects books, show them off! If you have a massive amount of ceramics or blue-and-white or Wedgewood, lean in. Collect what you love and display it proudly. I like to make sure everything is spaced appropriately and there is a mix of sizes and heights, so nothing feels too heavy or light. But don’t overthink it. Authenticity over everything is most important.”
Q&A with the Designer
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
This project was particularly fun because it was for my own family, so I was able to take some creative leaps while keeping everything family friendly. We were transplants to the Bay Area, and we wanted it to mirror both California living and our southern roots. That meant keeping things traditional while injecting lots of fun color and textures to mimic the Northern California landscape we were surrounded with.
How does the space represent your personality?
When we first moved in, it was just my husband and me. Shortly after, we had our first child, Duncan. It was important that every inch was functional because of the small footprint. However, since I am an interior designer, everything had to be incredibly beautiful, too. I refused to sacrifice one for the other!
What mood or vibe do the interiors exude?
The important thing was that it feel like my family. And just like with my clients, I didn’t want anything that felt inauthentic to us. My husband and I both grew up in Kentucky, but our son was born in Northern California, and this was the house we brought him home from the hospital to. It was important that we honored that in the design—thus the bold colors, wallcoverings, and layers like I grew up with in the South mixed with the more laidback California landscape we lived in. Our backyard felt like a nature reserve, with everything from coyotes howling to baby deer eating fallen plums. I wanted to bring that magic inside by making everything feel just a touch mystical. We knew we would eventually outgrow it, but this house truly was our sanctuary for our little family unit.
Did you encounter any hiccups during the renovation?
This entire project had hiccups, from surprises when opening up walls to my pregnancy—and of course, the pandemic. It was a roller coaster the entire time, but I think that’s why it was so special. Nothing was perfect. The floors were crooked in places, not everything was level, and eventually I had a two-year-old running around, so things were a perfect mess most time. All these circumstances out of our control allowed me to really lean into being creative on both design and functionality. When it was finished, we called it our wabi-sabi jewel box.
How did you make pre-existing pieces feel fresh and work with the new design direction?
I love consignment, vintage, and antiques, and so throughout the house you can see how the new and old speak to one another. I’ve been collecting pieces for years, including most of the art and all the accessories. I also repurposed several pieces I had found everywhere from small antique stores to Facebook Marketplace. If it had good bones and good energy, it was coming home with me! The power of patina and beautiful fabric gave older pieces new life throughout the space.
What’s your favorite thing about the finished space?
That it kept us safe and happy during very turbulent times. I’ve always said that interior design is so much more than selecting paint colors or textiles. It’s about creating a space that makes you feel comfortable, happy, and protected on good and bad days. This home did that. Through all the chaos, it brought us joy—reading bedtime stories in our cozy little room, sitting at the oval dining table in those colorful chairs, or sitting at the kitchen peninsula while my husband cooked and we listened to music.
Want to see more of the nostalgic home? Tour the entire residence below.
“Our main living space was one long room, and we wanted it to serve as both our living room and dining space,” Barton says. But after moving in all the furniture, “it just felt cold.” To make the space feel more cozy and cohesive, she installed a warm-toned grasscloth from Phillip Jeffries all throughout and up the hallway, and painted the built-ins, fireplace, and ceiling Parma Gray by Farrow & Ball. “I love the juxtaposition between the fun blue paint and the more serious wallcovering,” she reveals.
An avid collector of home magazines, Barton proudly displays her favorite issues in the living room, “where I can access them whenever I need,” she says. “I collect a lot of things, from ceramics to coffee table books, and I never want to hide the items that bring me joy. Almost every piece of my collection is something I purchased while traveling, scoured eBay for, or bought antiquing with my mom,” she reveals.
Table: vintage, Baker. Chairs: vintage Drexel in Schumacher and Claremont textiles.
“My favorite room is easily the kitchen,” Barton says. “It was beyond fun to design. I knew when we moved in that I wanted to make the kitchen special.” To bring the space back to life, she decided on classic inset cabinets, painting them White Dove by Benjamin Moore (her favorite).
“One of our favorite places to hang out was the custom banquette by GP & J Baker, and the Noguchi pendant gave us that perfect pop. I love the tension between that contemporary element and the traditional cottage-style cabinets, brass mesh, hardware, and rattan. Everything is so different but works together superbly. However, the piece de resistance is the Cole & Son orange blossom wallpaper, which I love because it felt like our kitchen came full circle.”
Peninsula pendants: pendants: Hector & Finch. Table: custom, in walnut by Jessy Anderson. Backsplash: Fireclay Tile.
“For our bedroom, my husband and I wanted it to feel like an escape from the rest of the house,” Barton says. “We wanted our art to be the standout, since every piece was sentimental for us.” So they kept things “very simple, light, and airy” with traditional striped wallpaper, pale blue-and-white curtains, and floral accents.
Rug: Rush House. Nightstands: Doorman Designs. Headboard and bedskirt: Custom by Robert Allen Design. Mirror, chair, and accessories: vintage. Wallpaper: Mulberry Home. Drapery: Nile and York.
“Our family went into shelter in place when my son was just seven months old. It felt incredibly important that he have a space that was fun and a feast for the senses, since he couldn’t be in school,” Barton says. She chose to paint the walls a lighter blue (Breath of Fresh Air by Benjamin Moore) set against a high-gloss yellow (India Yellow by Farrow & Ball). To complement the color combination, she covered the ceiling and closet walls with Schumacher wallpaper. “We wanted it to feel fun and imaginative for a two-year-old who had spent most of his time at home since before he could walk,” she explains.
Headboards and bedskirt: custom, in Schumacher. Nightstand: vintage, Duncan Phyfe. Bedding: Cologne & Cotton.
“Our bathroom was the only bath in the house, so it had to work for our entire family,” she says. “We opted to retain the tub-shower combo and keep things simple with white glossy subway tiles and Carrara floors. We could sacrifice storage by having a console sink from Signature Hardware, which made the space feel more open, because we had a large closet across from the bathroom. Last, this was also the bathroom for our dinner guests, so we wanted it to feel special and fun while also relaxing for us day to day. The natural vinyl wallpaper did just that, with pops of unlacquered brass.”
Wallpaper: Schumacher. Sconce: Ship Lights.
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