Dominic Bradbury, Journalist & Writer


Into the Mix

A seductive blend of mid century finds, self designed furniture and vibrant splashes of colour enrich Marc and Melissa Palazzo's airy Californian retreat.

Designers Marc and Melissa Palazzo are the driving force behind interior design and furniture business Pal + Smith. They share their home with their three children – Isabella, 11, Luke, 9, and James, 3.

A spacious ranch style 1950s home in a quiet part of Orange County, California, not far from Los Angeles. The ground floor living spaces are mostly open plan, with the master bedroom plus one of the children's bedrooms on the same level. Upstairs there are two other bedrooms and a mezzanine room for the children.

* That internal window from the kitchen to the dining room. It makes a great focal point but it's also practical, allowing sunlight and dinner plates to slip from one room to the other. * All of those statement chandeliers: a sure fire way to add a touch of drama and sophisticated luxury to any space. 'We are always looking out for great lighting fixtures,' says Melissa. 'They are a real favourite of ours.'

* Banks of floating white curtains in the master bedroom. They soften the space, calm it down and bring it together all at once, while also helping to hide the openings to the walk in wardrobes.

* Light everywhere. Lots of skylights and all that open plan living help make the most of the golden Californian sunlight and bring the house alive.

'When the weather is good the doors to the back garden are always open and they slide all the way back. We are outside for half the year.' Melissa Palazzo.

'In the winter we tend to lay down more rugs and then in the summertime I pretty much take them all out when there's sand from the beach coming in. It also helps keep things cool.' Melissa Palazzo.

'When we started with the house many of the pieces were 1950s and '60s but then we added more contemporary pieces and it morphed. They all seem to come together well.' Melissa Palazzo.

'If we have friends over then we will use the dining room but as a family we often use the breakfast table by the kitchen or eat outside.' Melissa Palazzo.

'I love the fact that everything so open. The spaces are not so architecturally defined which gives us the freedom to define them in other ways.' Melissa Palazzo.

'We work all the time, so we definitely work at home and talk about work. But work and home are more separate than they used to be. We used to have an office in the house and it was unfair on the children because it was too tempting to go into the office and do some work. We had to set some ground rules.' Melissa Palazzo.

Now and then Marc Palazzo comes home and finds every bit of furniture out in the garden. He knows straight off that his wife Melissa is reinventing the house again. It's just part of the ever changing way of living at the Palazzo house, which never stands still.

'Some of the furniture, like the dining table and the armoire in the hallway, has been in the house since we first bought it but other pieces do come and go,' says Melissa of their family home in sunny Orange County, California. 'Sometimes it just gets boring after a while and I have to have a change. I'll put everything out in the back yard so I can start moving and mixing with a clean slate.'

Things are constantly shifting, with new pieces coming in all the time, while others head off into storage. The sofas in the living room are repositioned to reframe the room, or a new desk introduced in the mini library by the stairs.

Not that the Palazzo house could be called a work in progress; the place is far too polished and sophisticated for that. It's just that that the Palazzos like to keep things fresh. 'It is always evolving,' says Marc. 'As soon as I get used to something, then Melissa has something new coming in to replace it. But we still like to keep an open feeling to the place.'

Both being interior designers with their own furniture collection, who grew up within families immersed in the world of design and antiques, the Palazzos have a brilliant eye for striking combinations. They are happy to mix mid century flea market finds with up to the minute pieces and their own designs, tied together by colour and texture. They love introducing attention grabbing strokes of colour and pattern but carefully set against a backdrop of more muted wall tones and simple polished concrete floors, which gives a calm canvas to work upon.

'And we do generally agree on most of the design decisions,' says Melissa. 'With the house being so eclectic, it does allow us both enough creative freedom.'

But this is not just a testing ground for the Palazzo's design style; it's a hard working family house shared with the couple's three children, Isabella, Luke and James. And it's the focal point for a full on family life and work schedule, with the children's school, the beach and their Pal + Smith showroom all close to hand.

Marc and Melissa – who have known one another since childhood - bought their two storey house eight years ago, just after the birth of their second child, Luke. But realizing that they original house was rather compartmentalized and disjointed, they soon decided to radically remodel and extend the house, adding a new dining room and a double height family room on the ground floor. The Palazzos wanted an open plan feel, while bringing in more natural sunlight with extra skylights, as well as building up a strong sense of connection between inside and out.

'We really loved the property and thought we could do something really fun with it,' says Melissa of this, the second home that the Palazzos have designed together. 'Then we hooked with architect Henry Buckingham of Techentin Buckingham and he had some great ideas – such as the exposed beams and the corrugated metal "skins" on the exterior - so it was a great match.

'But we knew we wanted to keep an open floor plan and that the living space was very important to us, as the children spend very little time in their bedrooms, even though they do have good sized rooms.'

The heart of the house is the large, crisp and elegant bespoke kitchen, designed by Marc, which was installed before the main renovation and then fully boxed up to protect it during the work on the house. The kitchen leads seamlessly into a long living area with a sliding wall of glass opening out to the gardens.

Melissa compares this rectangular living space to a train carriage and so the Palazzos have gently divided it up into three separate zones, just by lightly arranging the furniture. At the heart of the space is a family sitting area defined by two Pal + Smith sofas sitting under a chandelier found in the inherited remnants from Marc's father's former antique store. To one side sits an open study area defined by custom bookshelves and a communal desk, where the children do their homework and play games.

At the other end of the living space there's a more intimate and cosier seating zone arranged around a fireplace. This is one of Marc's favourite spots for reading by the fireside and listening to music. Here, one wall is covered in a dramatic Cole & Son wallpaper. This selective use of pattern – also used to great effect in other parts of the house like the downstairs powder room or James' bedroom – is a real eye catcher without risking overwhelming the space.

'I like to see pattern and colour in the kind of doses we have here in the house,' says Marc, whose own family settled in the States from Italy. 'I like it to be a special moment. And I do like the combination that we have of antiques and contemporary pieces. The architecture of the house is the same, combining old and new.'

Henry Buckingham designed the new mezzanine room upstairs for the children. This is another great space, with plenty of light and overlooks the new family room below. 'It's like a mini loft apartment,' says Melissa. The only trouble is that Isabella, Luke and James don't seem to spend much time in it so far, preferring being downstairs in the rec room or Mum and Dad's bedroom. 'Hopefully they will use it more when they get older.'

The older two children got involved with choices of artwork and colours for their own bedrooms. Animal portraits and photography lend a quirky touch of warmth and appear many times over, including the horse portrait floating over the diaphanous white curtains in the master bedroom. These pictures are a real favourite for the family, especially Melissa, who treasures strong memories of her grandparent's farm and its horses.

In summer the house opens up dramatically, with the glass doors to the garden pulled back and the family eating out and barbecuing under the branches of the vast coral tree that dominates the garden. Winter rugs tend to get put away, so as to keep the house cool and avoid getting clogged up with sand from weekend trips to the beach, while the polished concrete floors come into their own.

Having transformed the place, making sure it works hard and well for the whole family, the only problem now is the growing temptation to do it all again with another house. 'We'd like to do another project,' says Melissa. 'But we do love the house so much that it would be difficult to leave.'

Pal + Smith –
Techentin Buckingham –

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