(Photos: Cominique Vorillon; styling by Sunday Hendrickson)
Text by Fifi O’Neill
Artistic Details and personalized furnishings lend functional charm to a tiny cottage.
Fashion-designer-turned interior decorator Janice McCarty knows a thing or two about style. So, when she first saw her 1922 cottage in Venice, California, she wasn’t exactly impressed. “It was awful,” Janice recalls. “Everything was fake-new, like the worst of home improvement catalog.” Still, the appeal of the nearby beach proved irresistible, so she bought the tiny home.”
Boost Natural Light
To make the 900-square foot home her own, Janice began by undertaking some structural changes, like removing dropped ceilings that really boxed the already-small rooms, adding skylights to help flood the space with as much natural light as possible and replacing solid exterior wooden doors
with new glass-paned versions that would also boost space-expanding natural light.
To add square footage, she enclosed the existing front porch, thereby gaining a dining room that now connects to the living room with a pair of leaded-glass doors, which were rescued from a Frank Lloyd Wright home and fitted with new panes of her own design.
Then, she swiftly replaced all the generic furnishings with her trademark whimsical mix of elegance and quirky, refined and homespun. “I like a mood of lightness and comfort that feels effortless,” Janice says.
Wizard with Scissors
Janice developed her artistic abilities early on, when she began sewing and making jewelry and leather crafts as a teenager. “I’m still a wizard with scissors,” she says, “even when it comes to cutting metal.” Inspired by old movies, design books and decorating magazines, she transforms her surroundings with swap-meet finds, and raw materials from restoration catalogs, hardware stores and lumberyards. No surface escapes her touch. Her knack for customizing items with vintage fabrics and antique buttons is evidenced throughout her home.
Whether referring to her fashion sense or decorating scheme, Janice says, “I strive to create unique pieces and rooms that blend the past with the present.” To set the fresh and welcoming look she was after, she took her cues from the small home’s Spanish roots and added wrought-iron elements ranging from door handles to light fixtures plus a variety of accessories. To bring in the feel of the beach, she chose a blue-and-white palette and applied various shells to vases, candle sticks and chandeliers; these pieces are then transformed into “house jewelry” with twists of wire and beads.
One Color Unifies
This is not to say that Janice excludes mass-market furnishings from her repertoire. But when she does purchase a piece, she quickly gives it charm and personality by adding her own stamp. “I change everything I buy,” she explains. “I will apply coats of paint and then sand the item to give it an antique look.” Case in point: the living room’s IKEA bookcases, which she transformed with hand-etched mirror doors, scalloped wood trim along the open shelves, antique door pulls and layer upon layer of blue paint. But whether buying new or old, Janice looks at each piece with a dressmaker’s eye.
“No matter where I find something, may it be furnishings or accessories, it has to have great lines and it has to fit with its intended surroundings,” she notes. Size is not an issue for Janice, who makes the most of her diminutive cottage by outfitting it with comfortable pieces with high-impact color set against a luminous white backdrop. “Using one color accent against a neutral background provides unity throughout a small home but also accomplishes the illusion of more space,” Janice says. The overall effect results in a mix-and-match aesthetic that is both practical and playful. “I pay no attention to the functions of materials,” Janice states. “I like to tweak things to create a mood that is upbeat and fun.” Many of her furnishings are family mementos and vintage finds. “A house is like an art project to me,” she says. “I am always striving for design that is personal but not precious. I want my house to be cheerful and make visitors feel that way, too.”
Get the Romantic, Old World Look
Cozy spaces are a perfect match for the charms of the past
- Janice McCarty’s home is so unique because she takes the time to personalize nearly every item. Adding beads, fringe or feathers to lamps, pillows or vases is an instant and inexpensive way to give your space old-world flair.
- Embrace sheers. There’s nothing more romantic than wispy, gossamer curtains blowing in the breeze. The light color will also draw the eye toward the windows and the outdoor view, thereby making the room feel more expansive.
- Let Nature Inspire. The Victorians knew the power of Mother Nature. In fact, every room in their homes would have some element of her bounty. Fresh-picked flowers, seashells, floral-patterned fabrics all are easy ways to brighten up a room without taking up much space.
- Add Fabric Flourishes. Mixing patterns and textures gives a space interest, particularly important in a limited area. To add an aura of romance, use vintage fabrics and play up sassy stripes bold checks and charming toiles.
- Create Vignettes. While this may seem a little daunting, it couldn’t be simpler: Just gather together items you enjoy that you feel have some common bond. You can group together according to color, theme or size, and then place on a bookshelf, side table or mantel. For added interest, try to vary heights, textures and shades.