Rewriting the rules

Everyone knows that at the beach normal rules don’t apply. Especially when it comes to decorating. For this jewel-box beach cottage in Del Mar, California, interior designer Jeffrey Alan Marks happily brokeor at least bent-many of the rules, opting for high style without sacrificing fun or function. Want to make waves of your own? Read on.

A dreary color scheme clearly dated the 1925 cottage’s last redecorating when Jeffrey Marks took it over from his parents several years ago. "Everything was dark and much of it was faced in redwood with ’70s earth-tone touches," he says. He envisioned a breezy update with a lively attitude, a place where he and associate Robin Eisman could meet with clients or relax with friends. "I wanted it to look like an old ’40s beach towel," he says, "faded yet colorful."

The first law to go was Rule No. 1: Paint the walls white to make small rooms look bigger Jeffrey picked a warmer palette of saturated colors that energize and envelop rather than expand the pint-size spaces. While sacrificing a greater sense of spaciousness, he gained intimacy and a bit of drama. He even played up the house’s inherent coziness by making each room a different color, thereby breaking Rule No. 2: Stick to a single wall color to create visual flow.

Rule No. 3: Small rooms shouldn’t wear big checks. In the kitchen and dining nook, a 1970s-era remodel had left its curse in the form of really bad linoleum. Rather than replace it, Jeffrey painted right over it with a bold checkerboard design, turning the squares on the bias so the pattern actually makes the room look larger. He found that concrete paint-the kind used on garage floors-adhered best to the old flooring. The oil-based paint was thinned with mineral spirits so it would streak when applied. A coat of clear polyurethane makes the surface durable. On the kitchen walls, bright yellow paint gives the room a sunny disposition, even on cloudy days.

The house has a humble history: Formerly the manager’s quarters for a nearby hotel, the 900-square-foot cottage is smaller "than most of my clients’ entry halls," Jeffrey says. But he’s learned one important rule worth keeping: It’s not how much room you have but what you do with it. "Even though the house is small, all my friends gravitate here," he says. "It’s a very happy house."

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