When it came to her own family’s lush and leafy oasis in Venice, Los Angeles–based designer Kate Driver started off, surprisingly, by abandoning her aesthetic roots. In September 2016, she and her husband spontaneously abandoned their renting life—and Driver’s long-held dream of owning an “old house with character,” not unlike the Georgian-style homes of her native Atlanta—to dive head-first into owning a new-build home with no real architectural soul to speak of.
“But when we walked through, it felt like no place we had ever been before, like a tropical wonderland,” Driver, the founder of the interior design studio West Haddon Hall, says of the home’s soaring windows and proliferation of palms. “So that night we felt really inspired. We stayed up until 3 am googling ‘how to buy a house’ and put in an offer the next day.”
In the eyes of a lesser visionary, the house’s grand 25-foot heights and 4,500 square feet of concrete floors may have felt overwhelming to furnish. But for Driver, who at the time had just discovered she was pregnant with her first child, the house was merely a blank canvas. “I just became obsessed with making the house feel like it has been here forever,” she says.
Introducing vintage and antique pieces was the easiest—but not the only—way. “I’ve been collecting pieces from different eras and different parts of the world for a long time,” says Driver, who has long admired Roman couturier Giambattista Valli’s eclectic cache, displayed in his Paris apartment in apparently improvised fashion.
“I aspire to that kind of layering—rich and textured but very personal,” Driver says. To wit, the living room in Driver’s home is a worldly pastiche of collectibles old and new, manifesting as a spontaneous and synergistic tableau. A rather prim Fritz Hansen midcentury settee, covered in lush Liberty floral velvet, offers a level of decorum offset by the humorous geometry of Ettore Sottsass’s famous Tahiti lamp, a playful postmodern interpretation of a flamingo. Elsewhere, the gravity of twin walnut coffee tables by West Haddon Hall—emblematic of Driver’s desire to design pieces that are “distinctive and functional anchors in the visual atmosphere”—are challenged by the charming granny fringe of an antique floor lamp or American printmaker Denise Kupferschmidt’s punchy cobalt painting. That painting, in turn, sourced by Driver’s friend, art advisor Illa Gaunt, is a nod to the loose forms of Henri Matisse.
The home is constantly in flux, expanding and contracting with pieces and people: For example, the decorator’s more tenured objects often depart for clients’ residences when fresh finds like the Roger Capron tiled coffee table in the guest apartment, or the entryway’s concrete Willy Guhl planter, arrive from global markets like Marché Paul Bert, Driver’s favorite Paris flea. And when a legion of friends comes over for a taco brunch, like they did recently to fête Driver’s now-eldest child on her fifth birthday, sometimes they don’t leave until after dinner. According to Driver, these accidental all-day events owe their duration and ease to the home’s natural warmth and flexibility.
“I love designing spaces that feel intimate for a larger group but also vibrant and full for a smaller group,” says Driver. The upstairs landing was transformed into an intimate sitting room, where the designer placed a 1970s Luis Montiel tapestry—a “retro rainbow,” as Driver calls it—in contrast to a needlework rug with a more serious palette. An outdoor dining room, which hosts the resident family of 5 on West Haddon Hall picnic benches as easily as it accommodates 25 visiting taco buffs, is heated and suitably foliaged, anticipating the rare occasion when Southern California’s perpetual balminess—and the garden’s perennial palmy- ness—aren’t up to al fresco dining standards.
As it turns out, designing a house that feels like it’s been around forever is directly proportional to the level of languor exhibited by guests who can’t think of a more relaxing place to spend their entire day. “I love that it feels like home to them too,” Driver says.