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.”