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House Tour: A Colorful Cottage Christmas
Designer Alison Kandler's historic Santa Monica, California home is full of fun fresh twists on cottage tradition.
Written by Kris Christensen
Photographed by Bret Gum
Styled by Jickie Torres
WINTER WHIMSY. The Christmas tree is every bit as whimsical as the room in which it sits. The decorations are entirely handmade, either purchased at Alison’s favorite shops or handmade by her daughter. Rainbow garlands of felted wool wind their way up the tree’s branches, past colorful baubles that reflect tones used throughout the room. There are no glass ornaments, which makes the tree family friendly and safe for pets to investigate.
CHRISTMAS CHEER. Stockings are hung with care from the limestone mantelpiece. Other Christmas accessories like the poinsettia, ribbon-wrapped wreath and bottlebrush trees add seasonal warmth to an already cheerful environment.

If you’re a lover of the cottage aesthetic, chances are the word “new” isn’t a good thing. Rainbows of color don’t immediately come to mind when you think of time-honored Christmas motifs. When the holiday season arrives, shops fill their shelves with decorations of nostalgic themes such as snowflakes and snowmen, forests of evergreen trees and reindeer in sleigh bells. Interior designer Alison Kandler (alisonkandler.com) chooses to stay true to her style roots, and each Christmas she forgoes the jewel tones of red and green, instead opting for a world of candy colors that fit her sunny home and her year-round aesthetic without compromise. If you’re a lover of the cottage aesthetic, chances are the word “new” isn’t always a good thing.

STUNNING STYLE. Alison prefers to decorate with original art, rather than prints. These vintage paintings are one of a kind, and have been collected through the years and assembled into a beautiful gallery that breaks up the white space behind. At the base of the stairs sits a hot pink poinsettia in one of Alison’s many Bauer pots. A long, green garland references the season with simple elegance.

Traditional Touches with Modern Proportions 

Before the Kandler family bought their home five years ago, the tiny 1927 Santa Monica cottage was fitted to the Spanish revival style. This look is popular in the area, but it did not suit Alison’s tastes or her vision for the building’s potential. She worked with her business partner, architect Joan Swartz, to take the interior down to its studs and build it back as an English country cottage. They were able to almost double the square footage, but even with the added space the house required careful planning. “We downsized when we moved here,” Alison explains. “So when we laid out our blueprints, we whittled down to the spaces which we’d really use. Every room has to multitask.” Although Alison and Joan were essentially working with a blank slate, they chose to honor the heritage of the home by incorporating historic design elements from the 1920s and ’30s while updating the spaces for modern living. “Homes made back then didn’t have high ceilings and large windows like we build now,” says Alison. “Those were two things we chose to modernize. We needed the rooms to feel open and to allow as much natural light as possible.” Generous windows may be a modern expectation in new construction, but Alison’s are designed with arches and multiple panes that fit the traditional aesthetic. 
HAPPY HOME. Santa Monica sunshine streams through the wall of windows, illuminating Alison’s colorful family room. Even in winter, the designer likes to blur the lines between indoors and outdoors. A wicker settee and chair are just as comfortable inside as they would be out on the patio. On the coffee table sits a small collection of bottlebrush trees dyed in vibrant hues to suit their setting. By layering seasonal items in, rather than swapping everyday décor for short-lived vignettes, she minimizes the amount of work necessary to set up after Thanksgiving and put away before New Year’s Day.

True Colors Revealed

Before you even enter the home, the deep teal door hung with a white Christmas wreath offers an accurate impression as to what you can expect inside. Go through a Tudor-style doorway and you are greeted with rich patterns, vintage furnishings, and everything in color. “Color is my thing. I came to this project wanting color; it makes me happy,” says Alison.

If color provides happiness, then there’s plenty of joy to be found in every room of the house.

Underfoot through much of the downstairs is flooring painted with green and periwinkle checks. “Trust the colors you love,” Alison advises. For those enchanted with the idea of unique custom flooring, the designer offers a bit of encouragement, “It’s actually very easy to paint floors and to repaint them if you change your mind about the colors.” One thing Alison refuses to paint, however, is vintage furniture. When it comes to tables, hutches, and other flea-market finds, she likes to look for old pieces that were painted far back in their history and show signs of subsequent wear and use. “I don’t touch original paint. I love the patina a piece develops over time,” she says. “It’s similar to a new pair of shoes; they’re uncomfortable until they’re broken in.” Alison’s favorite piece, an eight foot- long table in the dining room, is well broken in. With wood and an underlying coat of red paint showing through the final layer of green, any scratches or dings that may happen will be unnoticeable among the others on the forgiving surface. 
VINTAGE ENTERTAINING. In most rooms, furniture is purchased to fit the space it will inhabit. In the dining room, Alison took the opposite approach. The room was designed to fit the vintage dining table, which measures a formidable eight feet long. The piece has been painted, repainted, scraped, carved and loved for many decades before making its way to its current home via flea market. Wooden chairs with fuchsia cushions tie in with the imported wallpaper, another stunning addition to the dining area
JOY IN THE DETAILS. A closeup shows the crackled, worn green-and-red painted finish of Alison’s dining table. The pink poinsettia serves as a centerpiece in one of Alison’s Bauer pots, with felted wool garland and pinecones decorating the length of the table before it is set for the next meal.

Deck the Halls with Whatever Suits You

Alison’s dining room table may be red and green, but even during the holidays, the typical colors of Christmas are balanced among seasonal decorations in an expanded palette. On the living room Christmas tree, a spectrum of felted wool balls makes up a garland that weaves through branches hung with whimsical ornaments right at home among the room’s vintage accessories. These ornaments are in the same shades of pink, purple, yellow and blue already used in her everyday décor. Likewise, in the family room, pastel-dyed bottlebrush trees on the coffee table and pink poinsettias in Bauer pots are seasonal symbols combined with the designer’s cheery style that fit the mood of her home very well. 

HEART OF THE HOME. The kitchen is a compilation of show-stopping focal points, but no detail is too small to escape notice. The powder-blue LaCanche range and coral center island make holiday cooking just as fun as holiday eating. Coral-colored knobs and drawer pulls punctuate the white cabinetry, which balances the other shades in the space for a fresh feel.
CHRISTMAS BREAKFAST. Alison likes to blend outdoor elements with indoor spaces, and the view into the backyard makes this an easy transition. Three low maintenance bistro chairs further establish the “outdoors in” theme with a coastal cafe vibe, and the window seat is cushioned to provide extra accommodation. Pine branches subtly mark the season, paired in an arrangement with hydrangeas in a vintage pitcher.
WALLS THAT WOW. Love the look of wallpaper but can’t afford to paper an entire room? Consider using your favorite in a display case. Assembled items pop against colorful backgrounds, which would otherwise look uninteresting. This built-in unit, and its mate on the other side of the window, exhibits pottery and other items that are too pretty to be held behind closed doors.
STATEMENT STYLE. Colorful appliances are an expensive commitment. But if you trust your instincts, the unique refrigerator or range, like this powder-blue LaCanche cooker, can inspire joy in a space where it’s important to feel comfortable and empowered. Alison covered the vent with a hood featuring a scalloped trim. It’s a finishing touch that is vintage inspired, playful and neutral all at once.
FESTIVE FURNISHINGS. At the top of the second-floor landing, visitors are greeted by one of Alison’s favorite pieces. The hutch still wears its original white paint, with a perfectly chipped and crackled patina that can only come from age and use. The piece doubles as a linen cabinet to show off her collection of quilts.
Alison knows that seasonal décor should complement a home’s overall style, rather than create visual discord. She designed her home to enjoy the Southern California sunshine, but her quirky and colorful Christmas decorations don’t seem at all out of place. Holiday cheer is anyone’s for the making, no matter where you live.
WELCOME HOME. Pure white packs a visual punch hanging in contrast from the teal front door of the Kandler residence. The wreath is a first impression of what can be seen inside as soon as the door opens. The word “WISH” is wrapped in bright coral yarn as a handmade touch.