California Cool Gets a High-Fashion Facelift In This Cheerful Newport Home

From a poorly-built spec house to a fully custom family home, Shannon McLaren Wilkins delivers West Coast bliss.

luxury newport beach home tour
Chad Mellon

While an architecturally strong home will tickle the fancy of any good designer, rarely do you come across an individual drawn to the exact opposite. For celebrity stylist-turned-home stager-turned-interior designer Shannon McLaren Wilkins, a weak starting point means there’s only one way to go. “This home was hideous; it had every bad builder mistake you could think of,” she says of a four-bedroom Newport Beach home she recently transformed. “Faucets in the wrong places, weird angles, cheap materials…just bad, bad, bad,” she adds. When clients of Wilkins scored an irresistible deal on a 2005 spec built situated on Newport’s prized Morning Canyon—with a spacious yard and panoramic views to the Pacific—they looked at the long road ahead of them in delight. “My clients were excited and ready to do whatever it took to make this house their dream home,” Wilkins tells us. The family, a successful entrepreneur and his wife and two young children, lived in New York City, London, and finally Newport, where they had settled for the past five years. Now, they were looking for a final landing pad fit for their wildest dreams.

luxury newport beach home tour
In the playroom, all of the art is sourced from Tappan Collective in Los Angeles.
Chad Mellon

Like the clients, Wilkins had also spent time in different parts of the world before settling into Newport Beach. When Wilkins became too pregnant to tie the shoes of the celebrities she was styling, she slowly made the move to interiors. Now, she runs PRAIRIE, her Newport Beach-based interior design firm. “If someone’s hiring me, they want a ‘PRAIRIE’ home,” she says. “They want my grout lines, my trim, my shade of white, so I try to be true to my brand, and know what I like and don’t like. Regardless of architecture, or anything else.” There was an instant synergy between Wilkins and her clients, whose willingness to indulge in the unconventional is what spearheaded the entire project. While the home lacked any real architectural voice, it leaned Mediterranean with “a bad farmhouse style on the inside,” Wilkins says. The first phase of construction was to streamline everything: take out the cheap tongue and groove flooring, get rid of the weird soffits throughout the home, rework the staircase, and bring the bad build back to its original, personality-less form. “When we were creating our ‘box’ we had to think: ‘Where are the extra, unnecessary doodads? Where are the strange lines? Where are the awkward areas?’ to make the home as clean and architecturally pleasing as possible,” Wilkins says.

With a white box and blank canvas, she installed exposed beams, plaster fireplaces, wrought iron doors and windows into the home to give it a sense of old world, Mediterranean charm. “‘California casual’ is really having a moment right now, so the biggest challenge for me was capturing that lifestyle without duplicating what other people are doing,” Wilkins says. With a background in styling, she compares the process of design to that of dressing a client. “You’re dealing with a person who has needs, you’re trying to match an aesthetic, you’re gathering items, and filling a blank space,” she says. “It’s just more high stakes here.” And since the clients offered minimal creative direction aside from the adjectives “modern” and “farmhouse,” Wilkins was (delightedly) left to her own devices.

newport beach family home tour
In the living room, mid-century artwork is hung above the custom plaster fireplace.
Chad Mellon

Like most clients of Wilkins, whose work runs the gamut from relaxed ranches to sleek Hollywood homes, entertaining space was essential for this family. Given the home’s capacious common areas, this was one of few requests that would be easy enough to satisfy. In the living room, the open concept space is broken up by a thoughtful curation of furniture, which sits somewhere in the middle of mid-century, modern, and Mediterranean; pieces that feel neither too this or too that. In rooms like this, artwork was especially important, as the couple came into the home without virtually any items from their previous houses. To add to the challenge, “My clients only wanted new things,” Wilkins says. “They would show me incredible vintage items and then I’d have to find brand new pieces inspired by them. So to keep it expensive looking with the price point we were set at, and doing that without vintage—that took some heavy lifting.” To do so, she went custom on a variety of pieces throughout the home: rugs, tilework, plaster, upholstery. By focusing on textures that have an inherently older world appeal, Wilkins conjured the feeling of a space collected over time. That said, she also prides herself on her own personal branding, and was determined to infuse the home with her elevated-yet-comfortable flair. “My style is ’70s English, that’s me true and true. Everything has a casualness, laidback, layered feel,” she says. “So getting the client to ‘jump,’ to believe me when I tell them everything will be okay, that was the goal.”

newport beach home tour
Glossy green tiles in the powder room connect the ocean outside to the home’s interiors.
Chad Mellon

Elsewhere in the home, pattern-punched wallpaper, bold tile, and sculptural accessories connect one room to the next, offering a delightful sense of surprise as you glide through each space. The meticulously assembled rooms flow like a string of well-structured sentences, with seamless transitions that offer a clear beginning and end. In the powder room, for instance, glossy green tile sets an ocean-like backdrop to a sculptural brass mirror and a watercolor by Anna Ullman; a room that “took nearly 15 iterations to complete.” While the kids' rooms feature whimsical walls and pieces doused in pattern, the master bedroom is a quiet escape to the louder design of the rest of the home. “We wanted it to be super organic, very light, and airy when you wake up,” Wilkins says. “Spaces like this were all about the views.” And views they did have. The outdoor area, complete with kitchen area, heated pool, and ample seating areas, will tempt you to lay out and enjoy views to the ocean and beyond.

When asked what makes a “PRAIRIE home” so special, Wilkins refers back to her fundamental California cool. “It's fashion forward, it’s cozy and warm, it’s a place where people can walk in and throw their shoes in the corner and eat spaghetti—but feel fabulous doing all of it. There are pretty things to look at, but it's not chaotic, and it's always relaxed. When I design, it comes from a gut feeling, and a constant balancing act in my mind. It’s like fashion—you know when you have too much jewelry on and need to take one thing off, or when you’re dressed too fancy and need to throw a leather jacket on.”

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