Ways To Incorporate California Cool Style In Your Home

There are a few regions in the country with recognizable decorating vernaculars. Some categories that are easy to envision include midwestern mid-century modern, the rustic lodges of mountainous regions, and the art deco decadence of Miami. Filtered through a particular, glittery lens, the chill glamour of California is another familiar aesthetic and possibly the most famous.

California style perches on the edge of a paradox, not unlike a canyon residence with a sweeping panorama of the Los Angeles skyline and valley below; a gleaming motorcycle in the vestibule, mod furniture, and sleek surfaces sit snugly among California poppies and manzanita tree tops. Initially, much of this sensibility seemed targeted for status and shock value, yet always resting atop the undercurrent of the (perceived) ease and beauty of the environment. However, something has shifted and the previous glitz and sheen have become honed in a considered way, falling into alignment with a simpler, luxuriously good life.

To that end, monopolizing the story of American interiors, and reaching far beyond the coastal state, is the trend now known as California Cool (aka Cali Cool and California Casual). Interior stylist Jessi Deakin describes the aesthetic this way in Eat Live Escape, "California Cool interiors are comfortable and relaxed yet refined and interesting. It's a balance that feels effortless but evokes such a good mood." Because it's the capital of moviemaking, expect some high drama, too.

A palette of neutral textures

California Cool combines a deft mix of characteristics, some of them opposing. Per TLC Interiors, the mingling encompasses a bit from a few design schools including spare Scandinavian, offbeat mid-century modern, fresh coastal, and the free-spirited bohemian vibe tied to surf culture. Natural and rustic materials are featured in all of these aesthetics and are incorporated into California Cool style in both hard finishes and soft furnishings that provide a bounty of texture. Stone countertops, wood beams, and ceramic tiles combine with wool boucle, velvet, and jute, to name a few. Baskets, pottery, and plants are suitable accessories.

"Despite being a fair distance from the coast, I feel there is some synergy between the styling in the coastal and desert areas of California. Color palettes are often playful but still balanced by clean neutrals and natural materials," explains Jessi Deakin (via Eat Live Escape). Shades of blue and green, with their strong ties to the natural world, are favored hues for adding to a foundation of earth tones. Light neutrals primarily form the backdrop for the above elements with the occasional bold accent color. However, a media room, library, or lounge could be a darker, moodier cocoon inserted amidst the airiness. "A bit of black can be a more dramatic take on neutral interiors and just the right amount of edge for infusing your space with that California Cool feel," shares interior designer Stefani Stein in House & Home.

A play of offbeat elements

Retro and antique furniture and décor add authenticity to new construction or act as a tether to the architectural style of older homes. These pieces also make quite a splash; sometimes it's the inclusion of incongruous features — a statement contemporary light fixture in a 19th-century Spanish colonial, for example — that creates the perfect amount of quirk and nonchalance to define the sensibility of the style. Further combined with an indoor/outdoor ease, the fusion is the drama that lends intrigue and individuality to California Cool style. 

Native Californian and designer Breegan Jane characterizes the welcoming and sophisticated relationship in Realtor.com. "It epitomizes the laid-back, carefree, beachy sensibility of the region while mixing in a bit of the glamour Hollywood [is] known for. California Cool is eclectic and chic without trying too hard," she says. Chalk the growing trend up to interior trendsetters. Their work speaks to the romance of darkly veined marble and aged leather cozied up to nubby, warm textiles. Refined and inviting aspects perfectly complement each other and the gorgeous encroaching surroundings. The whole creates a lush, energized, and relaxing atmosphere.

Lastly, we can point to the pandemic for an uncompromising and unwavering desire for personal yet comfortable spaces, even (or especially) where appearance reigns supreme. Designer Kate Lester tells House & Home, "Your home should always be a direct reflection of the people who live there and Californians embrace this concept really well." 

Bringing California Cool style home

According to Style by Emily Henderson, California Cool is all about a simple, effortless mood. Yet, the designer explains that understated and spare decorating can require just as much consideration and money to pull together as anything more ornamented or showy. Getting the color palette right will go a long way toward fulfilling a major component of the style. Henderson strongly suggests white or cream walls. From there, work with a limited scheme of earthy hues and edgy black for textiles and accessories, strategically introducing just a bit of bold color through artwork or accents. Aged leather, comfortable upholstery with a soft and luxurious hand, and plush area rugs will exude both coziness and sophistication. 

Natural wood carries an organic and textural element throughout the space; mix vintage finds with new furniture to create a collected-over-time feeling. Scandinavian and mid-century modern-inspired pieces are popular in this easy style. "California Casual style is minimalist yet cozy. Its use of light and texture means ... it never feels cold or uncomfortably modern," notes Lou Graham, founder of Graham & Green, in Homes & Gardens. Don't neglect to insert personal and eclectic elements while maintaining a pared-back aesthetic. And in true Hollywood fashion, pick a hero for the room and splurge a little. Finally, emphasize the indoor/outdoor flow as much as the space allows, whether that means unobstructed views and houseplants or seamless transitions to the backyard.