8 Essential Elements of California Style

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By Kristine Schnell / Published by Kristine Schnell
Want to achieve that effortless, airy California style? Here are the 10 essentials you need to achieve this casual, beachy feeling.

California style can be vexing to achieve—it looks so effortless but requires a decent degree of discipline in terms of material and color palette to effectively achieve it. Here are the 10 must have essentials to acheive this breezy, laid-back style. After all, California isn't just a style—it's an ideal. 

  1. White walls. The white walls are the starting point for solid California style points. Not only do they bounce light beautifully, but they serve as the perfect clean and crisp backdrop for the other essential elements. Bonus points if you're painting not only drywall white, but white brick and whitewashed wood. (Pro tip: Our favorite white paints are Dunn Edwards White, Dunn Edwards Droplets or Benjamin Moore Super White).
8 Essential Elements of California Style - Photo 1 of 10 -
8 Essential Elements of California Style - Photo 2 of 10 - White walls and cabinetry + leafy greens + mid-century style chairs = simple, classic California style

White walls and cabinetry + leafy greens + mid-century style chairs = simple, classic California style

2. Vintage rugs. Beautiful, hand-knotted vintage rugs are a signature element of classic California style, whether used as a runner in a kitchen or hallway, or layered with a classic sisal rug in a the living room. The more worn and faded the better, as these rugs just keep getting better over time. 

8 Essential Elements of California Style - Photo 3 of 10 - A beautiful and bold vintage runner adds color and pattern to create a dynamic hallway. 

A beautiful and bold vintage runner adds color and pattern to create a dynamic hallway. 

3. Accentuate architectural details with pops of black paint. We're looking at you window mullions. We also love matte black plumbing fixtures, hardware and signature light fixtures to add contrast to those aforementioned bright white walls. 

8 Essential Elements of California Style - Photo 4 of 10 - The very essence of California cool—black light fixture, leather chairs and a gorgeous vintage rug. 

The very essence of California cool—black light fixture, leather chairs and a gorgeous vintage rug. 

4. When in doubt, add leather. This can come in many forms, from a mid-century leather camp chair to simple leather drawer pulls, tan leather can take your style from Maine to Malibu in a snap. 

8 Essential Elements of California Style - Photo 5 of 10 - Gorgeous leather and brass pulls from Camp Provisions. 

Gorgeous leather and brass pulls from Camp Provisions. 

5. Built-ins make the world go round. Because what's a California-style home without beautifully styled shelves? If in doubt, go with all white built-in and add color with contents, such as beautiful books, smaller pieces of framed art or other beautiful objects. 

8 Essential Elements of California Style - Photo 6 of 10 - A recessed white bookshelf holds far more than just books.

A recessed white bookshelf holds far more than just books.

6. Embrace your green thumb. From succulents and cactus to big leafy Monstera, plants are key to great California style. We love simple terracotta planters, as well as mid-century case study and bullet planters as accents. Extra credit for any large scale cactus. 

8 Essential Elements of California Style - Photo 7 of 10 - Simple butterfly chairs paired with a cactus. 

Simple butterfly chairs paired with a cactus. 

7. Go big. In terms of artwork that is. Large scale photography is always a favorite (we love Jerry Uelsmann, as well as more colorful works from Max Wanger and Gray Malin), as well as bold, graphic artwork. 

8 Essential Elements of California Style - Photo 8 of 10 - Quirky, oversized artwork paired with pretty pillows—always a win in our book. 

Quirky, oversized artwork paired with pretty pillows—always a win in our book. 


8 Essential Elements of California Style - Photo 9 of 10 - Graphic black and white artwork punctuates the bright, neutral space. 

Graphic black and white artwork punctuates the bright, neutral space. 

8. Up your textile game. Opt for a durable cream slipcovered sofa paired with a mixture of subtly patterned pillows and throws for a look that is perfectly imperfect.

8 Essential Elements of California Style - Photo 10 of 10 - Layered throw pillows add color, texture and subtle pattern. 

Layered throw pillows add color, texture and subtle pattern.