By Alexandria Abramian
Photos by Darlene Halaby
Interior designer Hillary Moers transforms a heavy Tuscan home into a bright, art-filled adventure in modern beach living
The home had all the classic hallmarks of an early 21st-century Tuscan in Newport Beach: dark beams, heavily stained walnut floors, dark wood cabinetry, and no shortage of highly ornamental details. And while expansive ocean views lay beyond most of the rooms, wide-framed wood windows and heavy window treatments admitted only occasional peeks of the Pacific.
“The entire home felt like a wine cellar,” says Hillary Moers. “Everything was dark brown and heavy and was so specific to the Tuscan concept. I like the idea of having an influence from an era or place, but not living within a genre that is so specific. There were baptismal sinks made of stone in many of the rooms.”
So the interior designer embarked on what she now half-jokingly refers to as a “Tuscanectomy”—a process by which the best architectural elements were salvaged, while the home was lightened, opened, and connected to modern-day beach living. Without throwing the baby out with the baptismal bathwater.
“It was built in 2010 and is a well-crafted house,” says Moers. “It’s got space, it has large walls for an art collection, and it has an amazing pool area. I knew there was a way this could become a stunning home without massive construction.”
Moers embarked on a highly strategic overhaul. The walnut floors stayed in place. After months of sanding, stripping, and receiving just the right combination of taupe, gray, brown and white washing, which Moers says “took months to get right,” they now achieve the breezy ease of white oak. Ditto the limestone fireplaces, which went through extensive reconstructive surgery. “I had them lowered, leveled, and made more linear,” she says.
And while the heavy beams came out of most rooms, including the hallways and powder rooms, Moers opted to only remove every other ceiling beam from the living and dining areas, then stripped, sanded, and bleached them to achieve what she calls a “sophisticated, smooth, and creamy palette.” Quite the contrast to how she describes the first time she saw the heavily striped ceilings, as “a fudge-striped cookie.”
When it came to other aspects of the home, however, the Tuscanectomy was more invasive. The kitchen was entirely gutted, replaced with a minimalist, mostly white culinary hub where canary yellow neon script on the hood captures Moers’ overall approach to design: highly approachable modern traditional with a lively nod to humor. “I’m not a very serious person,” she says.
Moers punctuated multiple areas of the 5,300-square-foot, three-bedroom with skylights, replaced all wood-framed windows and glass doors with custom-made, steel-framed upgrades, and gave the sprawling ocean views the center-stage framing they deserved. “The key to making these homes feel more modern without screaming Star Wars is to give them an industrial edge. That’s what these steel-framed windows and doors do: They bring in just the right amount of industrial contrast to move Tuscan homes into the 20th century.”
Moers also transformed an outdoor loggia into an indoor space by taking the steel-framed window concept to the arches, a decision that resulted in no small feat of fabrication. “The first time I walked in that space, it was screaming to be a room, so I hired an artisan to make those windows. It took a year.”
The designer took a similarly hyper-focused approach in furnishing the home. Using a mix of custom-made pieces of her own design, antiques, as well as items sourced from the Thomas Lavin showroom, she cast a new take on coastal sophistication: One where statement-making art and clean-lined furnishings mingle on a soothing canvas that Moers likens to ice cream. “I wanted this to feel like a Fosters Freeze: The cone is made up of the light and sandy elements and the ice cream is the walls. Every now and then it’s dipped in tiny bits of chocolate. Tuscan in small doses can be a beautiful thing,” says Moers. “The key is knowing when to stop.”
Hillary Moers Interior Design | hmiinteriordesigns.com | 949.715.1580