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Design Ideas
House Tour: Cozy & Colorful
A storied cottage with collected style.
Homes have the ability to evolve with the families who inhabit them. As the family grows, so does the house, and, through the years as a family’s own footprint changes, the character, shape and makeup of the home changes with them. For the Olmstead family, their Newport Beach cottage is the family hub where relatives... Keep Scrolling
Written by Kris Christensen
Photography by Bret Gum
Styling by Jickie Torres and Karen Wilhelmsen

Homes have the ability to evolve with the families who inhabit them. As the family grows, so does the house, and, through the years as a family’s own footprint changes, the character, shape and makeup of the home changes with them.

For the Olmstead family, their Newport Beach cottage is the family hub where relatives and friends gather for holidays, special events or simply to enjoy each other’s company. This, however, has not always been possible. When Allison and her husband moved into the 1948 home with their young son 16 years ago, it had old-fashioned charm as well as some challenging limitations. With a growing family, the Olmsteads chose to renovate the beloved abode, rather than move to a larger place.

Harvest Gathering. The dining room table is set for a fall party. It’s easy to decorate for autumn when the colors of October sunshine and rich red maple leaves are already part of the permanent décor. Add seasonal trappings and everything is ready for a delightful dinner. Laura Ashely pillows adorn chairs that have been handed down through generations. And personalized pumpkins stand in as place cards for a fun touch.
Prize-winning Pumpkins. An autumn vignette is incomplete without the season’s mascot, the pumpkin. This tablescape employs several hearty and colorful heirloom varieties that will last all season long. The focal point is an antique, tarnished-to-perfection prize cup holding a stack of pumpkins and layered with fall foliage. Meaningful items like this trophy are an unexpected but delightful way to add whimsy to an event.
Personal Pumpkin. Place-card pumpkins are a fanciful way to show guests to their seats. After the event, guests can take their pumpkins home as favors.
Fall Front and Center. An heirloom pumpkin makes a hearty centerpiece that will last beyond one event and all through the autumn season. The base of this display is a tray made of galvanized steel, turned upside down and wrapped with jute spring. The pumpkin sits atop naturally finished wooden cake stand, with layers of fall florals and small gourds.
Side Dish. The sideboard is ready for the cheese course. Here a thin tree slice makes an excellent breadboard, while a few thicker cuts stand in for pedestal platters for seasonal fruit like grapes and persimmons. Mini Boxfli boxes stack up in the corner–they’re the perfect size for edible favors for guests.
Unconventional Vase. Rusty bedsprings sound uncomfortable, but here one such spring is cleverly used as a vase for roses. A small jar of water in the center keeps the petals fresh.

“I wanted to be a place where people could gather,” says Allison. “It’s important to me that we are all part of each other’s lives and that the home itself [facilitates] communication. I didn’t want a place that was too large so everybody is separate and doing their own thing.” They adapted the cottage to their needs in some ways, and chose to adapt their expectations to the home’s peculiarities in others.

Bold Decisions

For Allison, who loves to entertain, the new dining area was a top priority. “There was no dining room in the original house,” Allison explains. “We just had a small table pushed up against the kitchen wall.” Renovations added the large dinning and living area where family and guests could gather in a warm and cheerful atmosphere.

The ambiance is due in large part to the boldly bright shade of yellow that graces the walls. The unique color changes throughout the day, framing the room in a golden glow. “We knew we needed yellow because the room would get so dark in the afternoon,” she says.

Wild Neutrals. Allison’s eclectic style is on full display in the living area, where mixed prints and colorful objects give the room a comfortable energy. As for the scene-stealing zebra-print custom ottoman, Allison argues that “animal prints go with everything. When you work with so much surrounding color, animal prints become neutrals that tie everything together.
Statement Pieces. Allison knows how to find statement pieces on a budget. The chandelier is from a local consignment shop, and the stunning tree-trunk table was given to the family by her husband’s grandmother. The chairs and sideboard are also cherished heirloom pieces.

Bouquet of Bats. Every bat that Allison’s baseball-loving son has ever used—from Little League to high school—is displayed in this “bouquet of bats” as a visual reminder of great games gone by. Above, two fish prints continue the hunting and fishing motif.

“Now we have sunshine 24/7.” While sunny yellow walls might overwhelm other spaces, it works in the Olmstead dining room.Warm colors tend to advance toward a viewer rather than retreat, as cool shades do.This fact can make small spaces feel even more enclosed.


Warm colors tend to advance toward a viewer rather than retreat, as cool shades do.


But the room’s large floor plan and high ceilings keep the hue from seeming confining. Allison’s red Persian rugs and solid, dark wood furnishings keep the large room feeling grounded and intimate in spite of the space. “There’s no way to walk into that room and not feel happy,” says Allison. She credits the choice to her mother-in-law, an interior designer. “It was scary until we moved the furniture in, but I think bold furniture needs bold color to go with it so things feel balanced,” she says.

Don’t be afraid of a bold choice during the process.

Looking back at her own experience, she advises others, “Don’t be afraid of a bold choice during the process. Wait until everything is together to judge the result. If it doesn’t look good, it [might be] because it’s not done yet.”

Custom Calm. Everything from the headboard to the shade of green paint was custom made for Allison and her husband. Jute flooring gives the space a romantic plantation vibe.
Cozy Nook. Natural sunlight floods the bedroom from a nook lined with windows. It’s the perfect stop to enjoy a comfortable chair and a good book.
Day at the Spa. Buck, the family’s dog, says “Hi” over the bottom half of the Dutch door in the master bath. Dutch doors are especially useful in the Olmstead home, as the 1948 building has no air conditioning and they allow the sea breeze to circulate during warm weather. Marble countertops, a plush chair and a cozy Laura Ashley throw add spa-like luxury to this space.

Cool Choices

Elsewhere in the house, particularly in the bedrooms in the original part of the home, cooler palettes prevail. The rooms of her two sons and daughter are all subject to the quirks of the original architecture. Small size and low windows have made decorating in the rooms a challenge.

Having little space makes it necessary to push the beds against the walls and right under the window frames. Low windows require beds with low profiles, but Allison has navigated this issue so deftly that the arrangement looks natural, rather than forced.

Artist’s Studio. Allison’s teenage daughter is an artist who loves to redecorate and rearrange her room. For now, her bed is a comfortable place to daydream, complete with sunny Trina Turk bedding and a pillow made in Schumacher’s “Chiang Mai Dragon” print. Boxfli boxes store her supplies and keep artistic messes hidden away in the nightstand/bookcase.
Found Treasure. This desk area perfectly encapsulates Allison’s philosophy. The desk is a family hand-me-down, a friend found the mirror in the garbage, personal artwork is on display and the whimsical lamp packs a neon punch in the midst of an otherwise neutral space.

Cool neutral shades—light gray in the boy’s rooms and white in her daughter’s—keep the small spaces feeling fresh and open. The rooms are light on accessories in order to avoid visual clutter, but each still packs in personality, meaningful decorations and one or two highlight pieces. These include the bouquet of baseball bats in her eldest son’s room and the artwork and whimsical neon lamp in her daughter’s room.

Meaningful Memories

Whether the space is large and warm or small and cool, each room displays Allison’s love of her family and a curated collection of fond memories. Most of the furniture and rugs are heirlooms, passed down to the Olmsteads by their grandparents and cherished because of the item’s history. This includes the assortment of fish and fowl throughout the home.

Heirloom items are unique, meaningful and one of a kind.

Allison’s husband grew up fishing and hunting in Idaho and received several framed prints of birds and fish as well as taxidermy quails and carved or brass ducks. Look closely, and you may find a fish or bird in each room. “If you love it, there’s always room,” insists Allison. “We are constantly rearranging things to make space for the items that have been handed down to us. Heirloom items are unique, meaningful and one of a kind.” “Unique, meaningful and one of a kind” is the perfect description for the Olmstead family home as a whole.

Your Seat is Saved. The table is set with white china dinner plates layered under red glass salad plates. Alternating with the pumpkins, each guest’s seat is marked with a chalkboard place card, which is bundled with the napkin and silverware in a burlap and lace ribbon.
New Uses for Old Things. Before becoming a unique take on the classic dessert dome, this vintage cage was a wire planter basket. Turned upside down on top of a wooden pedestal stand, it protects a delectable chocolate cream pie until everyone has finished his or her vegetables.
Come on in! The front door welcomes family and guests alike into the cheerful interior of the Olmstead home. Pumpkins mark the season and give a small taste of what awaits inside.

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