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Tour a “Luxury Fun House” in Laguna Beach, California

Michelle Nussbaumer layers pattern and pizzazz into a modernist multigenerational family retreat perched on the Pacific Ocean

AD100 interior designer Michelle Nussbaumer’s more-is-more approach to decoration feels either inspired by the Pacific Ocean’s magnitude or like a brazen attempt to be the equal of the irrepressible view at this cliff-hugging vacation home in Laguna Beach. “This house is really something very different for the family,” says Nussbaumer, who has worked on the multigenerational family’s other properties for almost two decades. “[They] raised [their] kids in more traditional homes, and now that there are grandchildren around, it’s the era of the luxury fun house.”

Fashioning a funky and fearless tableau requires a vast imagination, a key characteristic of natural-born maximalist Nussbaumer. For instance, the designer spared nary an inch of surface area in the house from gutsy graphics, from the site-specific black-and-white wall art in the game room, stenciled with painter’s tape, to the painterly CC Tapis rug underfoot in the kitchen-adjacent keeping room. Also in that rounded area, embedded with thin vertical windows, Nussbaumer applied a trendy paint dip to the walls in a pretty salmon hue. “It adds a lot of architectural structure,” she says of the graphic effect seen on a castle-like parapet.

It’s also conceivable that turning a 1980s contemporary dwelling into a layered tour de force was done in defiance of the architecture’s seriously crisp lines. Wonky furniture silhouettes throughout the home are in constant conversation with the boxy interior architecture. In the primary bedroom, for instance, the bulbous glory of the iconic Up chairs by Gaetano Pesce challenge the space’s multidimensional flat surfaces and straight edges, even as the blocky tufted headboard and wallpaper by Phillip Jeffries seem to push back on any curvaceous advancements. A custom sofa in the home theater features an articulated spine that echoes the Herzian oscillations seen on the Dedar upholstery.

Nussbaumer also seems to resist the inherent austerity of contemporary architecture with a nod to the wild ocean sloshing below, just beyond the house. In the daughter’s bedroom, an azure wallcovering by Phillip Jeffries conjures cascading water, while the ceiling, painted in 17 coats of lacquer, “makes you feel like you’re a mermaid inside a wave,” says the designer. The dining room’s custom Bettinger Studio ceiling mural evokes the swags of a fishing net with its smudgy charcoal lines, and, not far away, an all-glass bar is an undeniable showstopper.

Since amusement is a core value of any fun house, the home’s oddball amenities are as paramount to the decor as anything else. Besides the bar, which contains bottled water from around the world, a concession stand in the home theater is stocked with popcorn and candy, while a boxing gym—one of the sons-in-law is a sports agent—features vintage medicine balls alongside modern gym equipment. But according to the daughter, the recreational revelry started when the home was still a blank slate awaiting an inrush of furniture and decor from a sluggish pandemic supply chain. “A tennis table became the heart of the home,” she says. “We began to challenge each other to games using pans, plates, spatulas, paper towel rolls. It’s now a family tradition to play with non-traditional paddles.”

Given the family’s deep-rooted interest in art, the most unconventional part of this eccentric vacation home might just be its fittingly modern collection. “The family normally invests in 19th-century art, but the pieces here are bolder and happier,” says Nussbaumer, who brought in investment-worthy works from blue chip expos like Art Basel Miami and the Dallas Art Fair, plus renowned dealers like JF Chen in Los Angeles.

In the entrance hall is a canvas of saturated colors and lighthearted shapes floating in terrazzo-like formation—it’s from Australian artist Elliott Routledge’s Euphoria series. As part of a salon-style wall in the foyer, a trippy piece by the Hungarian Op Art artist Victor Vasarely can’t help but turn heads, and a wall installation by Argentinian sculptor Carolina Sardi in the formal dining room brings green metal cutouts together in the shape of a heart. “As the saying goes, res ipsa loquitur,” quips the daughter. “[The house] speaks for itself.”

Furniture Living Room Indoors Room Couch Rug Interior Design and Table

The great room is a truly indoor-outdoor space, with one side open to the pool deck and the other side open to a terrace for entertaining. The tray ceiling has deeper proportions than most others of the ilk, and to offset that thick-set blockiness, Nussbaumer opted for curvaceous furnishings, from the articulated de Sede leather sofa to the custom Orso bench to the swing chair from Blackman Cruz hanging in the concave window.

Ceiling Mural: Bettinger Studio. Art: Markus Weggenmann, courtesy Taubert Contemporary, Berlin. Carolina Sardi.

A marble wall in the formal dining room has a Rorschachian appeal, and its blotchy gravitas contrasts and complements the smudgier, wispier lines of the Bellinger Studio ceiling mural. Designer Michelle Nussbaumer dressed the custom dining chairs in Opuzen mohair in various oceanic tones. A green-rimmed Karl Springer mirror reflects a Carolina Sardi installation of green metal cutouts in a heart formation on the opposite wall.

Lobby Room Indoors Furniture Chair Living Room and Table

The Nussbaumer Linguistic chairs in the informal dining room are bespoke from form to fabric. “I think in today’s world, with everything so easily available, it’s very important in a project like this to have things that feel very specific, that people can’t just get anywhere else,” says the designer. Though her original inspiration for the streaked and spotted upholstery was camouflage, it also recalls the marbled endpapers of rare books.


The all-glass bar features a crystal-clear beverage cabinet, as well as paned shelving stocked with vintage glassware and black and white photos of imbibing celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Serge Gainsbourg. Barstools are covered in black Sandra Jordan alpaca fabric.

Indoors Room Kitchen Interior Design Plant Flower and Blossom

Since the kitchen is quite literally the center of the home, a necessary stop on the way to other parts of the house, Nussbaumer felt unkitchen-y about it. “It needed to feel like a beautiful space on par with the rest of the house,” she says. Glossy Miele appliances echo lacquered surfaces in other rooms, while another decorative theme in the home—sculptural plaster and ceramics—is threaded through this space in the form of the white bust from Sud, an antique shop in New Orleans.

Furniture Living Room Indoors Room Table Coffee Table Rug and Couch

In the kitchen-adjacent keeping room, Nussbaumer cleverly remedies the lack of vertical surface area on which to hang art. “Then the art must go on the floor,” she says. The bold black lines on the CC Tapis rug have a painterly feel. Still, Nussbaumer did not give up on the walls, dipping them in a pretty salmon hue.

Wall Mural: Michelle Nussbaumer. Art: Ali Yikin Glass Art Studio. 

The family room graphically connects to the adjacent game room through a black and white mural, which continues on the other side of the wall. Even though the Roche Bobois sofa and the Womb chair by Knoll are rounded and soft in form, the tufty grid and striped upholstery, respectively, reference blocky contemporary architecture.

Living Room Room Indoors Furniture Wood Couch Table Home Decor Coffee Table Flooring and HumanWall Mural: Michelle Nussbaumer.

Though the design of the game room suitably reflects its raison d’être, one family member insisted on a more traditional counterweight due to its use of haphazard geometric patterns. Nussbaumer came up with a handsome lacquered wood grain built in that not only adds gravitas to the interior but also stores board games.

Living Room Room Indoors Flooring Furniture Home Decor Floor Chair Interior Design and Wood

Art: Patrick Phillips.

In the primary bedroom, Up chairs by Gaetano Pesce challenge the space’s straight edges, even as the blocky tufted headboard and a wallpaper by Phillip Jeffries seem to push back on any curvaceous elements.

Indoors Room Bedroom Furniture Cushion Pillow Bed Dorm Room and Chair

The Arte wallcovering in this guest bedroom features an artistic interpretation of the hills of Tuscany, a playful choice of backdrop considering the real-life view of the Pacific Ocean. The black and white graphic theme seen throughout the home shows up again here in beaded chairs, custom Ray stools, and a duvet cover made from Pierre Frey fabric.

Indoors Room Bedroom Furniture Bed and Dorm RoomArt:  © Mark Shaw and MPTV Images.

Nussbaumer’s design nods to the ocean that’s backdropping the house. In the daughter’s bedroom, an azure wallcovering by Phillip Jeffries and a boldly lacquered ceiling bring out the aquatic effect.

Sculpture: George Snyder.

As part of her process, Nussbaumer interviews family members to get a sense of their styles. In the case of the tween boys, they are fascinated by graffiti, so the designer had Dallas artist Kelly O’Neal custom-design a graffiti wallpaper. The boys’ mother adds: “I wanted a room that reflected my kids and some of the California beach culture. The graffiti wallpaper is the perfect backdrop for capturing how their generation is seeing the world as these Instagrammable moments.”

Cushion Pillow Furniture Room Indoors Bedroom Interior Design Couch Living Room and PlantArt: Markus Weggenmann, courtesy Taubert Contemporary, Berlin.

One of the grandkids’ rooms features a paint dip on the walls. The Vistosi glass floor lamp is from the JF Chen showroom in Los Angeles.

Furniture Couch Living Room Indoors and RoomArt: © 2022 Silas Seandel / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York).

A custom sofa in the home theater echoes the Herzian oscillations seen on the Flimflam upholstery by Dedar. The wallpaper by Pierre Frey and an ottoman by Kelly Wearstler up the ante on pattern.

The rather stern architecture of this multigenerational family’s vacation home in Laguna Beach belies the luxury fun house Nussbaumer created inside.

Via Architectural Digest

Joyce Rey
Joyce Rey
Joyce Rey

Joyce Rey is one of the most respected names in luxury real estate worldwide, having represented some of the most significant properties in the world.



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