The house was falling apart.
The yard, covered in weeds. Big Havisham energy. Incomprehensibly, the structure faced a side yard rather than the ocean view behind it. But when this Corona del Mar, California, home came on the market six years ago, architect Eric Olsen knew it was the one. Or, more precisely, that it could be.
Eric and his wife, Adriana, lived there for two-and-a-half years before tearing it down and rebuilding. At first glance, their new house looks a bit like its neighbors: wooden gate, single story, very discreet. But then the door swings open. All at once, you see a sunken, two-story courtyard with a fire pit and trees; enormous hanging globe lamps right at eye level; and the Pacific Ocean, Newport Harbor, and Catalina Island beyond. It’s enough to stun you senseless—exactly the kind of moment Eric worked to create. “I wanted it to be a total surprise when you came through the front door,” says the architect.
Designing a U-shaped layout around the courtyard, Eric made use of floor-to-ceiling windows throughout. They highlight the view, sure, but also help the couple keep track of their lot.“We wanted to maximize the space without designing the house in a way that felt like, ‘Wait, where are the kids?’ and then yelling for them,” Eric says. “The house is very transparent. It feels connected from all vantage points.” He might have used all shades of gray (a favorite color) on the interior, but for their girls—who are six, nine, and 12—little pops of color were added throughout.
Still, the couple’s style trends more European than Orange County. Adriana is a first-generation Italian from a family of restaurateurs: They had Calacatta marble slabs installed on the kitchen island for pasta-making, and outdoor heaters for year-round dining by the pool. She’s also the one to thank for the home’s urban undertones: “I’ve always been drawn to high ceilings, exposed brick, that kind of vibe,” says Adriana. “Living and studying in Italy, you’d see a really cool new villa with old brick and steel doors.” Eric and his team designed the dream house down to the details: custom cabinetry, hand-selected furniture, light fixtures from his collaboration with Chris Buzzell.
No doubt the 19-month project was a terrific undertaking, but it was also, apparently, a joy. “Many clients said, ‘Oh, it must be so hard designing your own house.’ But it wasn’t,” Eric insists. “You know what you want, and you move forward. And my wife was on the same page. It was easy!”
Right off the dining room and kitchen, the Olsen family spends most of their time here. Sofa and blue chairs: Bristol and Mad Queen, Poliform.Rug: custom. Coffee table and throw pillows: 503 Found.
The couple loves to cook, so a big, functional kitchen was a must. Light fixture: Eric Olsen for Buzzell Studios. Backsplash: Heath Ceramics (blue tile) and Clé (gray tile). Cabinets and hood: designed by Eric and built byH&J Cabinets. Chairs: Four Hands.
When these tiles arrived, Olsen thought their backsides were more interesting—so he installed them reversed.
The red-corded light fixtures (Caravaggio by Cecilie Manz for Fritz Hansen) were introduced “to be a bit more playful,” says Eric, “as this is a house filled with little girls.” Table: 503 Found. Chairs: Four Hands, with custom velvet cushions by Michael Walters Style.
“I was worried the pool might be too close to the house, but I love it,” says architect Eric Olsen of his California home. “When we open the doors, it feels like one big room.” Loungers: Teak Warehouse, in Sunbrella fabric. Throw pillows: RH, Restoration Hardware.
All of them face the windowed courtyard for a wide-open feel. Flooring: French Oak, Warren Christopher. Paint: Black Magic, Sherwin-Williams.
The couple’s 12-year-old wanted a platform bed, so Eric designed one with storage drawers and an attached desk. H&J Cabinets built it. Wallpaper: Calico. Rug: Silk Road Rug, Inc. Faux-fur chair: Urban Outfitters. Art print: Chasing Paper. Throw pillows: Target and RH, Restoration Hardware.
When the girls have their friends over, this is where they hang. Ping-pong table: Jory Brigham Design. Ottomans: Target. Art: William DeBilzan.
“Our girls are both sweet and sassy, so we wanted a piece of art that was the essence of both,” says Eric. Mural: Hand-painted by James Goldcrown. Bunk bed: designed by Eric and built by H&J Cabinets. Throw: Vitra.
A loft-like feel is thanks to the reclaimed brick wall. Tufted headboard: Lawson-Fenning. Pillows and throw: Jenni Kayne. Art: Halverson Frazier. Sconces: Allied Maker.
What looks like poetry on the powder room walls is actually a movie script by Eric’s best friend, screenwriter Paul Fruchbom.
How to DIY Your Own Wallpaper
- Find a material: “I called his wife and said, ‘I want to use the script as wallpaper and surprise him,’” Eric recalls.
- Add character: Using coffee, Eric tinted some of the pages to look more antique.
- Make it stick: Shellacked to the walls, the pages double as reading material.
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