Photos: Cominique Vorillon; styling by Sunday Hendrickson)
Text by Kathleen Riquelme
Dressed to Impress
A designer outfitted her California cottage in beachworthy fashion.
When fashion-designer-turned-interior-decorator Janice McCarty first walked through her 1922 Venice cottage, she was far from overjoyed. The previous owner, anxious to take advantage of Southern California’s sizzling real-estate market, had subjected the house to a quick, soulless makeover. “It was awful,” Janice recalls. “Everything was fake new—like the worst of a home-improvement catalog.” Still, the lure of the nearby ocean compelled her to take the plunge and buy the house. Janice immediately decided to deconstruct the bungalow’s generic decor. Widely praised for her customized clothes, which combine vintage fabrics and antique buttons with a modern sensibility, Janice set out to transfer her fresh aesthetic to the new interiors. “I love to create vignettes that blend the past and present,” she says.
Her first order of business was to give nondescript rooms a sense of unity. To underscore the home’s original Spanish roots, she added wrought-iron details such as door handles, pulls, light fixtures, and accessories. Next she introduced the feel of the beach with a blue-and-white color scheme and thousands of shells glued onto vases, mirrors, and lamp shades, and displayed in bowls and glass containers.
She took full advantage of the California sun by removing dropped ceilings, adding skylights, and replacing exterior wooden doors with glass-pane units. To increase square footage, Janice enclosed the front porch and created a new, light-filled dining room. She raised the ceiling, exposing rough beams, and fashioned an octagonal skylight from a once-solid turret.
Janice’s favorite detail, though, is the pair of leaded-glass doors that connect the dining area to the living room. She salvaged the empty frames from a Frank Lloyd Wright house and inserted new panes of her own design. Though most of the glass is modern, the result is not. “Whatever I do seems to end up looking vintage,” she says.
Janice scours flea markets, swap meets, and antiques stores for items to make her own. The mix-and-match aesthetic is both practical and playful. “I pay no attention to the function of materials and things,” she says. “I like to tweak things to create an effect that is upbeat and fun.”
Much of the bungalow is furnished with family mementos and vintage finds, but Janice isn’t opposed to a few mass-produced items. That doesn’t mean, though, that she’s content to leave them as is. Finials, distressed paint, and appliqués redefine ordinary pieces. “I’m always striving for design that is personal but not precious,” says Janice. “I want a house to feel happy and to make visitors feel that way, too.”
How She Does It
You won’t find Janice McCarty frequenting design showrooms to achieve her quirky, customized home decor, but she does have a few tried-and-true tricks.
Study The Structure
Before making a purchase, Janice evaluates each piece of furniture with a dressmaker’s eye. “No matter where I find a piece of furniture or an accessory, I always look for something that has great lines and a good shape, and that fits with its surroundings,” she says.
Buy New-to-you Items
In Southern California, Janice favors the monthly swap meet on the Pasadena City College campus over its gargantuan Rose Bowl counterpart. “There are more surprises to be found there,” Janice says. She also likes Long Beach’s flea market, which specializes in antiques. “I prefer items that are old—or at least look that way,” she says.
Make It Yours
On the rare occasion she selects mass-market furnishings, Janice can’t resist adding her own imprint. “I change everything that I buy,” she says. “I’ll apply layers of paint and then sand the item to give it an antique look.” IKEA is Janice’s favorite resource for ready-made items. She revamped an IKEA cupboard with hand-etched mirrored doors, scalloped wooden trim on the open shelves, antique door pulls, and layers of blue paint.
A French armoire Janice spied in a local antiques store inspired the design for the living room’s elaborate shelving unit, with its etched-mirror-front doors. She inherited the mosaic coffee table in the ’60s from her mentor, Bay Area artist Ruth Peterson. “It was the beginning of the blue influence in my life,” Janice says.
Terra-cotta tiles embedded with shells and sea glass form the fireplace surround in the living room. “I’m always striving for design that is personal but not precious,” says Janice.
Bold blue-and-white-stripe fabric gives new life to Janice’s grandmother’s chair in the living room. The designer’s dressmaking skills show up in the tassels and trims decorating the pillow, lamp shades, and curtains.
Shades of Blue
Janice scours flea markets, swap meets, and antiques stores for items she can make her own. “I like to tweak things a bit to create an effect that is upbeat and fun.” This arrangement of antique glass holds shells and some of the tools of her trade.
Customization is key in this household. Janice took a basic chandelier, dressed it up with vintage beads, and made shades out of fabric from a shawl purchased on the Venice Boardwalk. She topped an average desk chair with pineapple finials to echo those on her bed frame, a Salvation Army find. “I embellished almost everything in the room,” says Janice. “I painted the baskets aqua, dyed the curtains to match, and covered pillows with scarves, beads, and vintage lace.”
Although Janice introduced the feel of the beach with a blue-and-white color scheme, she takes it further with the thousands of shells (many of which she scavenged during daily walks on the Venice sand) displayed in bowls and glass containers, and glued onto vases, mirrors, and lamp shades.
Janice transformed the screened porch into an airy dining room. “Because this is Southern California, I wanted an indoor-outdoor feeling in this room,” Janice says. She crafted the table from a discarded gate she found in the neighborhood. A shell-crusted plant holder serves as a chandelier.
Janice took this small, ordinary attic and turned it into a comfy nook. She embroidered the pillow while on vacation in Mexico and embellished the lamp base with her own collection of shells. “I love to read, and this loft is the perfect retreat,” Janice says. “I feel like I’m in a tree house because the only way to reach it is by ladder.”