A Home Filled With Sea and Sky

by Darcy Vebber

interior design

Photos courtesy of Nicole Sassaman

Malibu offers the promise of an indoor-outdoor way of life, lived in harmony with sea and sky. When designer-builder Nicole Sassaman found this white stucco 1980s-era house, she saw that kind of promise beneath the clutter of arches and the dated blue tiled roof.

Sassaman had spent years transforming homes in the hills, high-rise penthouse apartments and places at the beach by opening them to their unique surroundings while maintaining a feeling of elegance and luxury. This house on Sea Vista had failed to take advantage of the very thing for which people move to Malibu: the spectacular environment. It was a perfect project for her.

The designer and her family intended to live in the house while she transformed it, so the first work had to be structural. She began by replacing the outdated blue roof with more sophisticated bronze metal. Some exterior arches were removed while others were made more modern and angular. Inside, walls between the kitchen and a butler’s pantry had to go, even though removing them proved to be a structural challenge.

Throughout the house, doors and windows whose painted wood frames blocked precious feet of ocean view and natural light were replaced by glass doors that fold open completely to invite in ocean breezes. Space beneath a plain stairwell was uncovered and turned into a dramatic wine cellar. A fireplace that obstructed a beach view was torn out and reinvented on an interior wall as a striking, narrow rectangle.

Removing walls that divided the master bedroom from a small sitting room turned that space into a bright, airy suite perfect for lounging and sleeping. Outside, the shape of the pool was changed to make it simpler and more useable. Construction of a retaining wall at the property’s sloping edge allowed Sassaman to extend the yard, making space for a cabana. At every boundary between inside and outside, Sassaman made sure the demarcation was gentle, the carefully curated indoors flowing gently outdoors.

The Malibu estate was ready for Sassaman and her family to occupy after only 11 months, but it would be two years before she was completely happy with it. One of the last changes she made was to swap out an almost-new concrete kitchen counter for honed manufactured quartz that would better survive the constant flow of drinks required for a good pool party. It’s easy to imagine the designer, whose outgoing personality is reflected in her casually elegant, warm, open style, hosting pool parties at the Malibu house.

It’s hard to imagine leaving this beautiful, tranquil world, but when she was done, Sassaman was eager to move on to a new challenge. When the buyer wanted everything in the house, from linens to silverware, she was well satisfied. She had succeeded in creating the setting for a perfect Malibu life, indoors and out.

Find her at nicolesassaman.com.

Nicole Sassaman interior design
Nicole Sassaman interior design
Nicole Sassaman interior design
Nicole Sassaman interior design


Sassaman describes her style as both elegant and warm. To soften the clean, architectural lines she prefers and to create a feeling of sanctuary in a house that is open to the sun and sky, Sassaman turns to color and texture. The dining room of the Malibu house reflects this mix, and the changes here are the result of surface treatment choices, rather than moving walls (except for the wine cellar under the stairs).

Sassaman chose earth tones for the upholstery and gray or textured walls instead of flat white paint. Elegant, dark drapes frame the views and spill onto the warm wood floor. They also contrast with light-gray furniture, textured rugs and wall coverings in muted colors. The wine cellar and stair railing are also done in warm wood.

The few, carefully chosen accent pieces throughout the house are simple, rustic and often Asian-inspired.

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