California living has long been defined by extremes. It exists in multitudes. Endless sunny days, ubiquitous palm trees, and the laid back ethos of surf and skate culture have populated our collective consciousness arguably since the Beach Boys exported Cali culture to international audiences in the 1960s.
On the other side of the coin sits Hollywood with all the glitz and glamour it spoon feeds a global community hungry for a taste of the impossible dream. Unsurprisingly these cultural poles have informed and inspired interior design movements as disparate as shabby chic and Hollywood regency.
While it may be hard to reconcile these different subcultures into a single defining Cali aesthetic, there is a common thread. It’s the ease that comes with a life lived near sand and surf, where the sun is almost always shining (recent unprecedented storms notwithstanding) and inhabitants co-exist with nature in a way that’s singular to this corner of the world.
Perhaps no one embodies this easy aesthetic better than fashion designer turned lifestyle maven Jenni Kayne. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Her sophomore effort with Rizzoli press titled Pacific Natural at Home is a visual love story to her trail-blazing, polished yet effortless Cali aesthetic.
Kayne is herself a California native. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, one of three daughters of self-made billionaire, private equity investor Richard Alan Kayne. She started her business when she was just 19 years old, designing clothes for effortlessly cool girls who first lusted after her D’Orsay slides and now decorate their homes with her classically chic furniture. Today Kayne’s empire includes 20 stores across the United States from Brentwood, Calif., to Boston. In 2021 her shop in Soho New York was named one of the best home design stores in the country by House Beautiful.
Kayne calls her aesthetic “timeless, effortless, super laid back but also classic and polished. But there is always a sense of everything being organic. So, always looking to nature as inspiration.” She sees people looking to Califorinia for “this sort of brighter, easier, more laid back kind of energy that they want to bring into their lives.”
So how does one go about bringing a little Cali cool into the cold Canadian winter?
“When I think of creating the kind of California aesthetic, I think of slip covers. I think of sofas that are skirted to the floor. I think of natural woven rugs. I think of linen. I think of ease. Nothing’s too perfect. Like, your sofa may be a little wrinkled. Your throw may be literally tossed on the side of your sofa rather than folded perfectly on the arm. I think it’s kind of like a lifestyle and attitude,” offers Kayne, who’s own homes have been featured in Architectural Digest and embody this earth-toned lifestyle to warm, minimalist perfection.
In 2015, her Beverly Hills home was purchased for just shy of US$13-million by model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who arguably takes a page from the Jenni Kayne book through her own minimalist ethos, which she shares to great effect with her 17 million Instagram followers.
But what of the indoor/outdoor living that’s so central to life in California? Jenna Cooper, an in-demand realtor who is a California design doyenne in her own right, has worked with Kayne on some of her real estate ventures and contributed this key design tip: “There should be something fresh and alive in every space … so bringing fresh flowers. Even if you have nothing growing at the time … you probably have scissors you can go out to your garden and just snip a branch and put it in a glass vase. Just something that feels organic to the outdoors that’s coming inside.”
Less is more, Kayne further advises. “If you have clutter or a lot going on, letting go of some of that and keeping pieces that just feel meaningful and like they belong in the room.”
Her starting point is to bring basics into a space in a neutral palette. “So, a great linen sofa, whether it be flax or ivory or charcoal or something that’s kind of simple and grounding and forever, with maybe like a natural fibre rug. Then again looking to nature for your coffee table. You can do wood, or stone or we do beautiful travertine tables, which I feel like feels very California.”
Some other key pieces from the Jenni Kayne collection include her ivory wool boucle Pacific Bed, the complementary Brentwood Chair with its easy curvilinear structure, and the natural linen Harbor Sofa. To such foundational pieces, Kayne suggests adding playful, albeit neutral elements like accent chairs in shearling or leather. In lieu of using colour to add dimension Kayne likes to layer texture with accent pieces like pillows in different neutral tones. To compensate for a cold northern climate, Kayne recommends recovering chairs in sheepskin, and adding mohair, velvet or wool throws.
Kayne bubbles with enthusiasm as she further considers the possibility of California design in Canadian spaces. “My best friend lives in Toronto in a beautiful historical home that was turned into town homes, into apartments kind of like condos, so it has this beautiful old history and architecture … and I would say that her home is very much the California aesthetic.” She continues, “I feel like anyone can do it. And the fact that you can do it with beautiful architecture that’s different than California architecture, I feel like, you know, it’s exciting. That’s even cooler.”
Enter a golden state with these oceanside buys
Gentle curves: Oui sculptural planter, $79.99, at chapters.indigo.ca
An elemental scent: Tom Dixon medium water-scented candle, $238, at holtrenfrew.com
A warm finish: Aly Velji 75″ Console Table, $1199, at urbanbarn.com
Room to lounge: Doze off Daybed $1,490 CAD, at sundays-company.ca
Inspiration guide: Pacific Natural at Home, $60.