Located on the glittering shores of Malibu’s Broad Beach, this 1953 residence was once owned by American actor Carroll O’Connor, most noted for his role as Archie Bunker in the 1970s television series All in the Family. Spread across 395 square metres, the home had been listed on the market for several years when Kelly Wearstler – the famed American designer who runs her eponymous studio in LA – decided to rent it during the summer of 2020. “I initially learned about the property through a friend who had stayed nearby three years ago and took me over to take a look,” Kelly says. “It was an architectural gem – a hidden surf shack.”
But rather than simply packing her summer wardrobe and moving in for the season, Kelly set out to create a charming live-work environment for herself and her beach-loving family. She picked up on cues from the home’s original detailing, including the prevalence of Japanese shoji screens and timber wall panelling. But the white shaggy carpet was replaced with seagrass, and rooms were filled with an eclectic mix of vintage and contemporary pieces – somewhat of a hallmark for Kelly. “I took inspiration from the house’s architectural shell – its earthy and rustic tones,” she says. “I wanted to choose objects that were hand-crafted, rustic and raw.
Kelly Wearstler reinvented a Malibu surf shack for the summer
The melange of styles and textures begins at the entrance of the home, where a bronze and leather bench by Chuck Moffit is partnered with a chunky blackened-timber console from the LA studio Base 10. Under the stairway, a steel chair draped in white plaster – a piece by Austrian designer Lukas Gschwandtner – is awaiting its moment to offer respite. The designer brought in a ‘Soriana’ sofa by Afra and Tobia Scarpa, and a 1950s ‘Control’ lamp by American designer Mitchell Bobrick. Envisioned as a light and plant-filled solarium, the dining room features an Isamu Noguchi pendant, Danish mid-century chairs and a table set with earthenware planters and vintage fibreglass vessels brimming with foliage.
In the living room, lounge chairs by Ilmari Lappalainen are paired with a tapered side table made of iroko wood, and cubic coffee tables finished in tortoiseshell. A 1980s green marble table by Mario Bellini can be spotted in Kelly’s office, where the designer would work for one or two days a week when not in the studio. One of the bedrooms is swathed in breezy colours and laidback decor, including a vintage nightstand, linen bedding and a plaster and paper mâché table lamp; a sculptural lounge chair by Ryan Belli adds some signature Wearstler whimsy.
Most of the furniture was drawn from the designer’s extensive collection of vintage pieces, something she has been building since a child (her mother worked as an antiques dealer which sparked a longtime passion and successful career). “I shop all over the world, and anytime I see anything that is unusual, I buy and store it in my warehouse,” Kelly says. Having brought in the key pieces to set the tone, she then turned to Joel Chen of LA antiques emporium JF Chen for the rest. “I’ve been purchasing things for projects from him for as long as I remember,” she explains. “He has a 30,000-square-foot store that stayed open [during the Covid pandemic] because there’s a lot of room for social distancing. So I went and got a few pieces from him.”
Astonished by the transformation that Kelly had lovingly bestowed upon the property, the owner commissioned a photographer to capture the home in its reimagined state, and updated the real-estate listing. About a month later, the residence sold – to a young Silicon Valley couple who, like Kelly, adored the home for its original charms. Kelly and her family packed up after the summer and removed the furniture pieces (as there are a number of pieces that she “would never part with”). But they left the home knowing it’s in safe hands. “You could have built a house three times the size of this one, which is what everybody unfortunately does on Broad Beach. But [the owner is] not tearing the house down, just fixing up the original bathrooms and doing a little more landscaping,” Kelly says. “That was amazing to hear!”
I shop all over the world, and anytime I see anything that is unusual, I buy and store it in my warehouse.