By the Sea

The sea – a dark greenish blue like a fig.

– Eugene Delacroix

The couple found a home on an island whose layers hugged a lush green hillside by a brilliant blue sea. Perched on a narrow windy road near the island’s ridge, a curved stairway led down to the home’s mysterious hidden entrance. Inside, a flight of stairs connected three consecutive levels stacked on top of one another, each with rooms opening to breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay.

The home sits on a lush green hillside by a blue sea
The home sits on a lush green hillside by a blue sea

As they walked through their new home, the husband and wife envisioned the existing spec-house cream-colored walls painted a beautiful mixture of blue and green.

Although this was the first home I worked on by the water, I was fortunate to find what I thought was the perfect color called Brooklyn from an Australian paint company. It was a rich combination of blue and green pigments that beautifully reflected the color of the sea (see image above).

Blues, Greens and Teals

To complement the teal-colored walls, the couple decided on a fluffy seafoam-green rug to cover the living room floor. Two beige sofas were placed on top, which sported row after row of playful blue and green inch-wide stripes. Each was layered with decorative pillows in blues and teals.

Whimsical hand-blown glass vessels in greens, blues, reds and oranges glistened from perches throughout the main floor.  The new homeowners loved the teal walls and furnishings that faced the deep blues and greens of the sea. They lived there happily with their two dogs and two parrots. That is, until…

They Were Freezing

I got a call one day unlike any I had ever received. It was from him saying “We’re freezing in this house.” I thought I could sense a slight shiver in his voice. After I hung up, I wondered out loud – what am I going to do? –  all the furniture, rugs and window treatments are expensive, custom made and already installed?

But after gulping down three espressos in a row, it dawned on me that the cool tones we decorated the rooms with looked out on even cooler tones in the San Francisco Bay. With no warm colors in the rooms, no wonder they were freezing!

Color to the Rescue

The next day I came prepared with multiple paint decks in hand. The couple greeted me at the door, and we immediately began the process of finding paint colors they both liked that would warm the feeling of the rooms and harmonize with the existing blue-green palette.

The brick colored walls instantly warmed the dining room
The brick colored walls instantly warmed the dining room

The pair had commissioned an artist to create a playful armoire to hold all their music CDs and sheet music. The homeowner was a talented musician who performed many years for Beach Blanket Babylon, the longest running cabaret to this day, not only in San Francisco, but in the country. The teal and terra cotta colored cabinet was decorated with colorful hearts, leaves, stars, spirals, and black musical notes to honor his musical talent.

The whimsical cabinet was decorated with stars, hearts and musical notes
The whimsical cabinet was decorated with stars, hearts and musical notes

Creating Warm Walls

Inspired by the tones in the artful cabinet, we painted the dining room walls a brick color that instantly warmed the room. Purple seat cushions on chairs with gold inlaid pineapples in their backs surrounded a warm, glowing dining room table. A pale teal display cabinet containing the couple’s hand-blown glass collection now glimmered with apricot colored light from within and above.

The hand blown glass collection glimmers in the apricot light
The hand blown glass collection glimmers in the apricot light

The complimentary colors of the kitchen’s warm maple cabinets and salmon- colored walls mixed beautifully with the blue window treatments above the view of the bay. Purple chairs and colorful dishes added whimsy and playfulness to one of the home’s most important gathering places.

The kitchen's warm maple cabinet and salmon colored walls
The kitchen's warm maple cabinet and salmon colored walls

My Lesson in Color

For a girl from Texas, where the closest water feature was a hot swimming pool in a parched backyard, I learned a lot working in this home by the sea. It’s important to respect the site a home sits on, the view from its windows and doors, and the climate where it’s located.

All of these are factors to consider when selecting the colors and creating the feeling in rooms where people live their lives. I discovered an important lesson through this hillside home by the sea – it’s not just the way a home looks, it’s the way it feels.

The brilliant blue-green San Francisco Bay

In celebration of both cool and warm colors,

Toby and Linda Applewhite
Showing 6 comments
  • Jean Bennett

    Linda to the rescue!! Lol It’s all so gorgeous and inviting, what a warm and cuddly home and that view is breath taking!! 🙂
    BTW, we got some great news from our contractor on the upcoming kitchen reno, it turns that we don’t have to rip out the lathe & plaster. He said he could put blown insulation in and sheet rock right over the existing walls, yayyyy!!!! It makes me feel much better, I was dreading the mess. I realize however, that we will still have to deal with sheet rock dust but that is okay 🙂


  • Jody Serritella

    I love reading your beautiful writings about your clients home. Your narrative is so descriptive I can envision the reveal in my mind like I’m reading a novel! I hope you and Toby are well. My little Brussels griffon Willy says hello to Toby!

    I wrote to you awhile back about my courtyard I was making into a French pea gravel garden. I’m waiting for the character to come alive when all the planting’s start to grow, and then I will send you photos!
    Take care,
    Jody and Willy

  • Lynn

    Linda, I love the way you share your insights on your work and the things that you learned along the way. I feel like I’m taking a wonderful class in design with you each time I read your blog!

    That painted armoire is fabulous – I love the quirky shapes and colors and of course the music references. You love artwork so much, do pieces like this serve as inspiration for you? Now I’m inspired by your photos to bring more cool colors into my home 🙂

  • Carolyn O'Connor

    I love what you’ve done to warm the home. The colors are wonderful and your decorating expertise is, as always, something I’m drawn to and would love in my home. Great job!!!

  • Jenny Duffy

    Thank you so much for including the cool palette I requested. Your example is just delicious. Also, your injection of warmth is a much appreciated suggestion I will incorporate into my redecoration. Is it possible to provide the name of the Australian paint company which featured the “Brooklyn” color? It is my goal in life to capture a bit of the sea in my home. Your work is so inspiring and I appreciate your emails so much.
    Regards, Jenny

  • Kirby Kendrick

    I live in San Diego and always wanted my house to reflect the colors of the ocean….but I love the light and warmth of Mexico also! The vast experience Linda shares with us has given me peace about this dilemma….my walls (planned by Linda) are now a soft yellow with hints of our magnificent ocean in our collection of folk art and ceramics.
    Muchas Gracias, Linda!

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