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Interior designer Chris Barrett had to be a director for a director, one of television’s most successful and prolific. Just as a new primetime television series needs to be plotted out and cast, Barrett had to envision the ways the rooms of a new vacation home in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, would function for a large family.

“I came into the project from the moment the home was beginning to be built,” says the Los Angeles–based Barrett, her first design project for the clients, which has led to a series of subsequent ones with them. “As I watched the oceanfront house take shape over a couple of years, I came to consider it a ‘modern hacienda’, in that it had all the flavor of a traditional Mexican home, but without being a literal interpretation of that. By ‘modern hacienda’, I mean that the house, expertly designed and scaled by the architect, Shawn Brown, is clean-lined and plays on a constant, effortless melding of indoor and outdoor rooms.”

Barrett’s work required the ability “to cast” rooms large and small, indoor and out, with furnishings that would be versatile and adaptable to a family with four children and grandchildren on the way. “The back story is that the wife, who was especially involved in the design process, wanted this home to be comfortable, welcoming, and easy in every way on every one of her family’s visits. While their main residence in Los Angeles is very formal, this house is all about being able to relax the moment they and their visitors arrive.”

While each of the home’s several bedrooms feature private walled courtyards, the most dramatic example of a true outdoor room is the central courtyard through which all visitors enter. “The wife and I both wanted this big space to feel contemplative, but also fun and engaging, as is the mood of the home as a whole,” says Barrett. Plantings not only flourish in the room, but serve to demarcate living and seating areas. The family can dine at a trestle table while others lounge in chairs on the other side of a palm. The courtyard is further animated by a splashing pool and fountain and the very sounds of fronds moving in the wind.

Creating a compelling story line was most challenging in the expansive living room, Barrett says. She needed to acknowledge the unimpeded views of the ocean through a fifteen-foot-high glass wall while creating distinct seating areas within. Given the scale of the room, she and the wife agreed on the idea to fashion two groupings, dividing them by the centrally positioned fireplace. Barrett also conceived of a wood-beamed ceiling, made of reclaimed oak barn beams, a design detail she repeated throughout the interiors.

But Barrett is most proud of the room’s chief design element: the stone wall and fireplace. “I sat down one day and drew by hand a fireplace elevation, with every stone in place, its position on the wall, and its size. I didn’t expect it to be replicated exactly as I had drawn it, but that is what resulted, to my surprise. The local workers hired for the job were so expert and patient that they exactly replicated every stone and size and its placement as I had shown in my drawing.” As a final flourish, Barrett positioned there an eighteenth-century Italian sunburst mirror, its long, radiating spokes establishing a strong textural interplay.

A challenge of a home like this one that centers on unimpeded ocean views is to keep people in rooms that may not look to the ocean. In the kitchen, the wife encouraged Barrett to design a backsplash comprised of decorative black and white tiling. The rhythm of the pattern becomes an animated visual lure. “The busier the pattern, the more of a visual draw you create,” she emphasizes. And as elsewhere in the home, wooden beams course the ceiling, a bow to traditional Mexican residential interiors.

Most of the bedrooms are modestly scaled. So as to not overwhelm such rooms, Barrett brought in minimally articulated iron beds, with decidedly modern armatures. “The iron handmade structures feel, to me, correct for this kind of house,” she emphasizes. As for imbuing the rooms with dashes of color, Barrett designed headboards upholstered with vintage rugs whose hues harken to Mexican motifs. “The headboards add character to the rooms without taking over as design elements.”

Barrett knew that the biggest design star would always be the ocean. Every item of furniture in the living room, for instance, can pivot to take in the view. For a sandstone terrace, she brought in a wooden table that could seat many for an al fresco meal. And given the profession of the client, she adds, “It seemed appropriate to position director’s-like chairs around the table.” For additional illumination, she hung woven balls, which discreetly conceal their lighting sources.

Like her clients, Barrett successfully created a compelling story line that holds every occupant’s attention. In the parlance of a television director, it’s a wrap.


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This story appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of MILIEU.