California dreaming

Art, books, objects and ephemera are all decorating tools that capture the put-together style of southern California’s historic bungalow – a look that travels well across the pond


B ook dealer, private librarian and author Douglas Woods has always been attracted to interiors that feature books because “they paint a picture of the owner’s personality and they say something about them as people”.

His new publication, Dreaming Small: Intimate Interiors celebrates the personality of the southern California bungalow – once considered America’s dream home and a house style that is about to be relegated to the history books.

The last of their kind, they offer some stylishly simple decorating ideas that translate well across the pond, even if we can’t embrace the outdoor living aspect of their design.

These homes show how people really live in southern California, Woods explains. “They are not staged homes. They have do-it-yourself interiors designed by the stylish artists and musicians who live in them.”

In one, an Arts and Crafts style house belonging to painter E.E. Johnson, an entire wall of the living room has been given over to works by the artist. They add colour and personality to the space. The fact that they’re all framed in a similar fashion knits the smaller and larger canvasses together.

And that is what Woods wants to draw our attention to, homes where “lives have been lived, homes with personality rather than professionally decorated houses, where art, books, objects and ephemera are all decorating tools”.

The properties Woods has selected are grounded in real life. They have evolved to meet the needs of the 21st century and touch on contemporary sub-cultures in the city.

Cycling, for example, is now a big LA pursuit. In the apartment of Alexander Yust of bicycle blog Velospeak, two bikes occupy space in the dining room. One is wall-mounted on a rack to keep it off the ground. This is a simple idea any apartment dweller can steal. There are hunting trophy styles in the manner of Pablo Picasso, wall-mounted bike shelves and even a freestanding unit designed by Thomas Walde to house your bike, as well as your books. is a good place to look for ideas that might work for you.

Another family featured annexed their spare bedroom to create a movie screening room – very LA – repurposing an old 1960s screen on which to watch the films. The screen disappears into the ceiling when not in use.

Another took advantage of the height hidden above his originally low-ceilinged kitchen.

By installing additional height, it made the room feel bigger. This owner has used the extra floor-to-ceiling height to feature his basket collection and to hang his nautical ephemera, which clamours for attention amid the countertop clutter. A small and moveable trolly in the centre offers additional counter space and can be wheeled into a corner when not in use.

The hall of a French château-inspired house has a turreted ceiling that the owner has turned into his very own circus tent by painting it in bold red candystripes.

Open plan living is not a new concept as these southern California bungalows attest. The layout of this 1920s house remains as it originally did.

Painting the walls and pitched ceilings white makes the space feel light-filled. This is echoed in the pale wood flooring. A touch of whimsy can be found in the owners’ art collection which includes a large portrait by Aaron White and photographs by Dan Monick. An original mould of rock band Devo’s energy dome, a piece of headgear that the band used to wear on stage during performances, is on display on the coffee table. Said to focus the mind’s mental energies, it is the perfect accessory for a California home.

Dreaming Small: Intimate Spaces is published by Rizzoli on March 4th