California Interior Design: Hybrid Styles + Global Influences

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California interior design by Sarah Barnard, Photo: Brad Nicol.

The Golden State has generated many interior design aesthetics over the decades, from Hollywood Regency to California Modernism. The latest style to surge in popularity isn’t a singular force, but a convergence of California eclecticism and global influences.

California is the most diverse state in America, home to 11 million immigrants, and 17 million transplants from other parts of the country. Coming from the nation’s most populous melting pot, Californians have a deep appreciation for a variety of arts and culture. A study of Google search trends reveals that California is also the most well-traveled state in America, which explains why many Californians draw inspiration from their personal histories when decorating their homes.

Interior designer Sarah Barnard, WELL AP + LEED AP, is a native Angeleno who founded her design studio 17 years ago in the entertainment capital of the world. The early aughts were the height of celebrity couple nicknaming when monikers like Bennifer, Brangelina, and TomKat grabbed gossip blog headlines. Hollywood culture is woven into the fabric of Los Angeles and has even seeped its way into interior design and how we label aesthetics. Using Barnard’s past projects as inspiration, we brainstormed eight portmanteaus that celebrate California’s blended design styles.

“Caliminimalism (California + Minimalism). Neutral color schemes, natural elements, and seamless indoor/outdoor living define the California-cool aesthetic. This pairs perfectly with a minimalist style, which emphasizes clutter-free spaces, neutral or all-white color schemes, and functionality. These approaches complement one another, creating a new aesthetic that’s warm and comfortable, yet practical.

“Caliterranean” (California + Mediterranean). Much of California has a Mediterranean climate, so it makes sense that the state’s inhabitants have long borrowed from Mediterranean architecture and landscaping. California’s take on Mediterranean style is a blend of Italian, Spanish, Moorish, and Mission influences. Stucco finishes, intricate tilework, dark wood tones, archways, and wrought iron accents characterize the aesthetic.

“Ethicali” (Ethical + California). California has paved the way for renewable energy and sustainable interior design in America. It’s no surprise, then, that residents value healthy, sustainable interiors. By adopting the Ethicali aesthetic, you can design beautiful spaces using non-toxic, naturally-derived materials, and finishes. These materials extend from FSC-certified wood furniture, chemical-free textiles, and zero-VOC interior paints, all the way to eco-friendly wood wax finishes, natural latex foam fillers, and organic cotton batting.

“Scandifornian” (Scandinavia + Californian). Although separated by thousands of miles, California and Scandinavia share an appreciation for neutral color schemes, natural fibers, sustainably-sourced wood, and intentional accessories. The term “Scandifornian style” wasn’t coined by us; however, it’s certainly grown in popularity over the past couple of years. The combined style melds coastal California influences with the simplistic forms and function of Scandinavian interior design.

“Calicottage” (California +Cottage). California, and Los Angeles in particular, is home to a surprising number of Cape Cod-style cottages. To prevent a California cottage from looking like it’s been airlifted from a coastal New England town, it’s important to honor its sense of place by bringing in native plants, lightweight textiles, brighter color schemes, and timeless furniture pieces.

“Francofornia” (French loving California). French and California interior design sensibilities are surprisingly chic when blended. Classic French interiors can read overtly formal and ornate; offsetting the style with pared-back California comfort can make a Francofornia space feel fresh and au courant. Think custom-designed, French antique-inspired furniture made from sustainable materials and non-toxic French linen window treatments.

“Tudornia” (Tudor + California). Tudor-style homes are all about opulence. In the United States, they peaked in popularity during the 1920s and 30s, which is why you’ll often spot them in historic L.A. neighborhoods like Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades, and Hancock Park. Even in present times, their interiors tend to be quite traditional. To achieve the Tudornia aesthetic, mix contemporary art, California-inspired furniture pieces, and colors with time-honored finishes and wall coverings.

“Coho” (California + Boho). The bohemian interior design style has deep roots in the counterculture movement of the 1960s — the epicenter of which was in California. That free-spirited nature hasn’t faded from the state, and many Californians continue to embrace vibrant colors, striking patterns, abundant plant life, and natural materials. The California approach to bohemian style is a bit more subdued and intentional; the silhouettes are modern, the colors are muted, and the decor is unobtrusive.

California’s interior design is multifaceted, just like the state’s nearly 40 million inhabitants. Californians draw on their diverse backgrounds and experiences to develop inclusive interior design styles that function in their specific climate, geography, and social environment. Coining design phrases gives us the expressive language to convey the melding of ideas and cultures that exists in California.

Sarah Barnard, WELL AP + LEED AP, is a leading designer of personalized, sustainable, restorative spaces that are deeply connected to nature and art. Barnard’s designs celebrate the natural world while contributing to its preservation. Barnard is an advocate for consciousness, inclusivity, and compassion in the creative process. Through her speaking engagements, pro-bono work, and writing, Barnard hopes to draw attention to these critical design objectives.

Barnard holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Claremont Graduate University as well as undergraduate degrees in Art and Interior Architectural Design. Barnard was recognized as an American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Ones to Watch Scholar in the program’s inaugural class and in 2018 Locale Magazine named Barnard “ Los Angeles’ Favorite Interior Designer.”

Barnard has given lectures at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), California State University, Northridge (CSUN), Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM), and SCALE: The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) National Student Summit. She has presented at the LA Home and Garden Show, Pacific Design Center, California Preservation Foundation, and Textile Arts LA. Most recently, OM Chats hosted Barnard and fellow design leaders to take part in a multi-speaker conversation around the role of empathy in design.

Originally published at on April 24, 2020.

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Sarah Barnard designs healthy, happy, personalized spaces that are deeply connected to nature and art.

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