When you envision a house in California, what comes to mind? For most of us, it's beautifully bright, airy rooms with tall ceilings and oversized windows to let in an abundance of natural light. It's a blend of textures, colors, and details that pay homage to the natural world, while retaining a sense of warmth and coziness. Well, if any of that sounds completely dreamy to you, you probably need to incorporate California casual style into your home.
This interior design style isn't a new trend by any means, but it's an aesthetic that has endured, and for good reason. It doesn't matter if you don't actually live in California, or on the coast (although bonus points if you do). This style is all about embracing indoor-outdoor living, seamlessly blending aesthetics that lean coastal, rustic, and modern all in one.
'California Casual style instantly transports you to sunny days, warm breezes, and plenty of indoor-outdoor connections. It invites you to kick your shoes off and sit anywhere because nothing is precious and everything is to be enjoyed with family and friends. It's a room that accommodates children and pets and has a timeless, welcoming vibe,' explains Mollie Ranize, lead interior designer and founder at Dmar Interiors.
From color palettes and finishes to staple furniture you need to achieve the aesthetic, we turn to interior designers to find out everything you need to know about California casual design trend so you can achieve the look in your own home.
What is California casual style?
Even if you aren't familiar with name, you've almost definitely seen a space designed in this style before. Popular with interior designers for its blend of modern, rustic, and coastal aesthetics, there's plenty of versatility in colors, textures and statement pieces to play with.
California casual style is centred around cohesively blending indoors with out. Think light, airy spaces with subtle hints of nature-inspired hues. Homes with this aesthetic offer a favorable middle ground between lived-in style and more minimalist style. It's not sleek but remains bright and inviting, while rooms feel used and enjoyed without cluttered surfaces or overfilled storage. Rooms designed in this style blend modern palettes with rustic finishes and a splash of coastal charm – exactly what you think of when you imagine a Californian home.
'Cali casual style creates a space that resonates with the laid-back essence of California living,' explains Kailee Blalock & Taylor Troia, founders of House of Hive Design Co. 'There's a strong emphasis on outdoor living, featuring outdoor kitchens, dining areas, and lounge spaces, with oversized windows and sliding doors to make these areas accessible and focal points.'
Co-founders of House of Hive Design Co., Kailee and Taylor launched their San Diego-based interior design firm in 2023. With a combined experience that spans over a decade, they specialize in highly custom interior design for luxury clients, with a signature style that holds a traditional foundation. Renowned for coining the term "Bookshelf Wealth," House of Hive Design Co. embraces the use of collected and thrifted items to create personalized, story-telling spaces.
Interiors designed with California casual style in mind have proved popular, especially with younger generations. 'I like to think of the California Casual style as sort of a more modern and youthful take on Coastal Grandmother,' says Kathy Kuo, CEO of Kathy Kuo Home. 'This aesthetic is luxurious and playful and definitely inspired by the natural beauty of California.'
Although the style takes a more casual approach, there is an unexpectedly elevated feel to the aesthetic. 'California Casual style evokes a cozy but crisp feeling. It's not board shorts and flip flops, but more suit with no tie. It's still sophisticated while being approachable,' adds Mollie Ranize.
What are the key design elements of California casual style?
1. Neutral colors with hints of ocean-inspired hues
California casual style certainly favors decorating with neutrals, but introducing intentional hues inspired by coastal landscapes is what determines the aesthetic.
'In our opinion, the color palette typically consists of more neutral tones, with blue and sea green as the go-to accent colors for both furniture and decor,' says Kailee Blalock & Taylor Troia. Opt for a cream paint on the walls for a clean base, and introduce subtle color through soft furnishings and artwork.
In this living room, the walls and ceiling have been painted in a neutral color, allowing the wooden ceiling beams to truly shine. Hints of green have been introduced through houseplants, while blue hues are subtly added through the soft furnishings and small decorative items.
2. Introduce a mixture of materials and finishes
California casual style is all about mixing different materials to create that laid-back, imperfect aesthetic. Bathrooms and kitchens in particular are great spaces to have fun with pairing contrasting finishes.
'The ‘Cali casual style’ steers away from intricate patterns, opting instead for a mix of materials—wood, leather, linen fabrics, and soft boucle,' says Kailee Blalock & Taylor Troia. In living spaces, choose a white, upholstered chair with wooden legs for a blend of hard and soft. In utilitarian spaces like a bathroom, create that contrast through hardware, mirrors and useful decorations.
'Subtle pattern play, mixes of metals and wood tones keep the eye moving without overwhelming the senses,' adds Mollie Ranize. Take inspiration from this bathroom by pairing gold cabinet handles with mirrors framed in black metal, softened with the addition of natural wooden tones.
3. Add color through decorative items
As previously mentioned, California casual style favors neutral palettes with pops of ocean hues. As such, try to introduce those colors of interest through decorative items. Be careful you don't lean too coastal with your decor – anything too beachy will feel more coastal and Cali casual.
'Think lots of earthy tones, but also with pops of turquoise and coral; plenty of beachy decor accents, but more like a vintage surfboard used as a sculpture or shark teeth in a frame instead of bowls of seashells,' advises Kathy Kuo.
In this bedroom scheme, decorative items focus on the bedside table with a potted plant adding greenery as a nod to outdoors, whereas the throw pillows and blankets on the bed introduce the pink hue.
Kathy Kuo is a celebrated interior designer and international guru within the home and lifestyle space. She has 20+ years of experience in the design industry.
4. Oversized furniture
The furniture you choose can really make or break the California casual style you're trying to achieve. From the colors and textures to the shape and size of the pieces, there are a few things to keep in mind.
'Our preference leans towards plush, oversized furniture with clean lines for this look. The use of natural materials like rope, jute, wicker, rattan, and shiplap, add an authentic touch to the aesthetic,' says Kailee Blalock & Taylor Troia.
Consider the furniture you're going to use the most – larger items will function best in a Cali casual home. 'A large comfortable sectional is almost always welcome, usually in a light linen or even linen look performance fabric,' says Mollie Ranize. 'Casual dining options for day-to-day living or even flexible enough to seat a crowd are a major plus with this style.'
5. A cohesive outdoor space
When it comes to California style, your outside space is just as important as your rooms inside. To emphasize the indoor-outdoor living arrangement, introduce comfortable seating that carries the scheme achieved on the interior spaces.
'Outdoor furnishings and landscaping help round out maximum use of a home when working with a California casual style,' says Mollie Ranize. In this outside space, large seats have been arranged around a white stone coffee table, encouraging informal socializing. Wood tones are prominent against the white finish on the walls and floors, and potted greenery adds a pop of color.
California casual style really does feel timeless – consisting of neutral colors, a blend of old and new decorative pieces and large, well-crafted furniture, this aesthetic really captures the essence of indoor-outdoor living. Nothing is too precious, yet an err of sophistication is maintained. California casual interior design is clearly here to stay, and its ability to adapt to different styles of spaces only makes it more desirable.
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Molly joined the Homes & Gardens interiors team at the start of 2024 as a content editor. Her undergraduate degree was in Magazine Journalism and Production, which she studied at the University of Gloucestershire. Before joining Homes & Gardens, she worked for two interiors titles across both print and digital channels, writing about a range of topics from room design ideas and decorating trends to the best places to source pre-loved homeware.
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