An empty nester was slowly but surely able to see her art-filled home in a new light
One of designer Alana Marie’s first major solo projects began as a conundrum. The clients had lived in their Mediterranean-style Bel Air home for two decades, and knew the California space almost too well. With their twins about to head to college, one half of the couple leaned toward transforming their soon-to-be-empty nest. The other wanted to sell.
The debate remained unsettled when Julie Harrah, the wife, met Marie at a dinner party thrown by mutual friends. Soon after, the couple hired her to rework just their primary bath, in preparation for a potential listing. Marie, who spent five years designing under AD100 Hall of Fame designer Kelly Wearstler, and then focused on custom fabrications in the hospitality sector, hadn’t yet built up a portfolio of her own work.
Using three-dimensional renderings to keep the couple in the loop, she stripped away obvious ‘90s details—think pale green walls, tons of cremo marble, and arches over the tub—and added more sophisticated stone, steel pivot shower doors, and a chair and ottoman covered in a hand-printed fabric. (The linen cleverly mimics the marble’s dramatic veining.)
Harrah loved the new bathroom so much, she handed Marie other elements to refresh, like a staircase with heavy, ornate iron balusters visible from the foyer. Next, they were talking about the living soom sofa, and soon, the whole home. Somewhere along the way, the couple realized they weren’t selling.
At the time, “every room had a different finish—painted, lacquered, wallpapered, or paneled,” Marie says. “While the maximalist in me loved it, nothing stood on its own”—including a substantial family art collection that all but disappeared under the layers. (“To be honest, I didn’t see the art at first,” Marie admits.) Working against the home’s formal, traditional lines, she aimed to create “a fresh, eclectic gallery where there’s something hidden around every corner.” She hoped the pared back aesthetic would help the couple “fall in love with some of their pieces again.”
The ambition of the project expanded when the two women flew down to Texas for Round Top, a premier antiques fair. It was the first time the event had been staged since the onset of the pandemic, meaning many vendors had stockpiled deep treasure troves to present.
Harrah describes that trip as “my version of Disneyland.” The pair stayed in a retrofitted grain silo and were up at the crack of dawn each morning to be among the first in line. “We bought everything in a matter of seconds, and every piece, I just adore because of the experience,” Harrah says, adding, “This really is the house that Round Top built.”
“My husband saw me fall more and more in love with the house,” Harrah reflects. “I was so young when we moved in, I didn’t know what I liked yet or didn’t like. We were fortunate to have this home and build a family here, but at a certain point…I stopped seeing the house. I was so busy raising kids and working on my business.” (Harrah designs her own eponymous clothing line.)
Since she frequently photographs her collections at home, Harrah requested suitable backdrops for, say, slip dresses and flowing caftans. Marie delivered, creating a vibe that nods to the seventies while remaining rooted in the current millennium. “The house got a lot younger with this renovation,” Harrah says. “It’s so me now. Alana really fostered that. She has such amazing taste and she helped me find mine.”
As Marie put it: “My goal is to design for the person, in their unique home or environment. It’s not about me or putting my stamp on it.”
Via Architectural Digest