I have a pretty strong belief that the right home chooses you. There’s a little magic, a little unexpected, and a lot of impossible involved. It’s been true of all the homes I’ve truly loved and never more true then this one in Topanga California.
In the summer of 2015 I moved back to Santa Monica, California into a (very small) temporary condo. I’d begin a long and daily search for my dream home. As someone who spent most of her life in the countryside or small towns, I was exhausted by the intense city living I’d been doing since moving to America years ago. I wanted somewhere quiet, with views outside my window that weren’t of my next door neighbour, I wanted space to putter, to garden and to host friends. I wanted simple things like a place to park my car without having to circle blocks looking for parking.
After living in so many homes, I knew exactly what I liked and didn’t and finding something in a market that doesn’t have inventory but does have crazy prices was proving to be really difficult and frankly depressing.
I was ready to give up when, one morning, I searched outside of my normal area and comfort zone: Topanga Canyon. It was only 10 miles to Santa Monica or Malibu, 4 miles to the beach and seemingly miles away from civilization. I saw a listing that had a photo of a home I knew instantly was meant for me, on an acre with so much nature including a chicken coop and a Provence-style garden. Neighbours but you couldn’t see them and noise? Only birds. It had lots of windows, lots of light, lots of white and lots of space.
There was an open house two days later so I made sure to be there as soon as it opened but another couple had got there first. I was worried because I could hear them being aggressive about the home – what they’d do to it, what they wanted changed, moving plans. I walked through the front door and as I stood in the kitchen I heard them talk to the realtor that they wanted it. They’d take it. They’d go home and make the arrangements. It would be a done deal.
And I remember thinking, “oh no you won’t. This is my home.”
I waited in the kitchen until that couple left and then walked out to talk with the realtor who was brokering the lease. I said, “I’ve heard the conversation you had with the other couple. Should I even bother?”
I’ll never forget, but she gave me this grin, squeezed my hand and I swear with a twinkle in her eye said, “Yes. I think you should.” It was this strange but cheeky feeling like she was letting me in on a secret – she wanted me to have it. I hadn’t spoken to her before and that’s all we said but that was enough.
When I applied I wrote a huge letter for the owners. Telling them how I’d grown up in the country, how I’d lived in and owned historic homes and knew how to look after them, how I loved to garden and craved peace. How I wanted to live somewhere for a long time and would sign a long lease. And how I felt like it was home. And I was so ready to feel at home, since the past 9 months 75% of my things had been in storage and the past several years I’d felt in flux and not settled.
And then, the next day, the owners accepted my offer and two weeks later I moved in.
When I met with the owners and the realtor, I mentioned how I knew it was my home from the start and the realtor said “I believe the home chooses the person. And this home chose you.”
And it did. It really did.
There’s no cell reception here which the Laura Ingalls in me is very happy about.
Furniture that I’ve had for a long time that’s always kind of not fit the next house completely fits into specific areas of my home – almost like what I had was made for this place. I no longer hear neighbours yelling but coyotes howling. I don’t wake up to dogs barking but birds singing. I’ve got my white walls upstairs but now I have dark, cosy wood and flooring downstairs. I have views, quiet, and peace. It’s total calm here and a place that just feels happy. I think that comes through in photos which is why I have friends coming almost every other weekend for the next six months and I couldn’t be happier. I have the sparest of spare rooms that feels like a treehouse and I can’t wait to share it with friends, and now, with you.
Inside the Canyon House:
The house was originally hand built in 1925 as a one room hunting lodge. The stone on the first floor walls is native to the area and is pretty common up in the canyon. It’s in a high-risk fire area so having a stone foundation helped owners to show ownership of land if a fire happened. What I love is that it was all put in by hand and in the living room, you can see how they had to work around a huge boulder because at the time, there wouldn’t have been a great way to remove it. It’s one of my favourite features of the house. The first floor has a lot of original details like an original Wedgewood stove, farmhouse sink and wood oven stove in the living room.
The first floor is also the ‘cosy’ floor and new for me in terms of style. It feels to me like a home in Provence with all the wood/stone, slate floors in the living room and cork floors in the kitchen. The first floor windows also look level at the backyard because the house is built into a hill. It’s darker and cooler downstairs but it also has the most beautiful sunbeams coming in through the kitchen each morning.
The kitchen and the downstairs hallway were added onto in the 30’s. The kitchen somehow perfectly fits my West Elm dining table (that I absolutely love) and my shelf I bought in Santa Barbara from a historic mansion (it’s a 1930’s console shelf). In the hall, which is super narrow, there’s just enough room from my 18th century horse buggy seat from France and a narrow shelf (from Etsy). The living room has what feels to me like a little french church window which looks into the driveway (you can see the slope).
The downstairs is mainly the large living room, one bathroom with a shower and kitchen so I keep the styling pretty cosy and french feeling with a touch of history to make it feel like you’re stepping back in time but with plumbing! I try to pay the most respect to the homes history on the main floor with a nod to cowboys and slow times. It’s all a mix of high and low end. There’s custom Shabby Chic pieces (couch, console, ottoman and upstairs the bed), some Ikea, some Urban Outfitters (the butterfly chair), antiques, West Elm and a lot of Anthropologie.
The show stopper of the house is the landing that connects the first and second floor. The walls span two floors with beautiful french doors that look outside. When I got here, it was all white but the drama of the walls called for wallpaper. I installed removable wallpaper (post here) from Hygge and West which turned out better than I could imagine. I keep two fake candle lanterns on every night for the ultimate in drama.
The second floor feels like a Scandinavian treehouse, surrounded by bougainvillea, trees and lots of windows. There are 2 rooms and one bathroom (with tub) upstairs, all which were added in the 50’s. All the walls are white, there’s no curtains on any of the 12 windows (except for 1 in the guestroom) and there’s original hardwood floors in the guest room, original tile in the bathroom but cork in the bedroom (not a fan, but it’s there).
The Garden and Yard
The house sits on about an acre of land high up in the canyon which gives beautiful canyon views. The driveway is so steep if you have a little car you won’t be able to make it out but the slope also creates a beautiful hiking trail up the other side of the property. And all the way down the land is the creek which you only get to see during Spring when there’s actual water.
The front patio is really spacious, running the length of the house, and overlooks part of the front yard/garden/canyon. So I bought a couple of lounge chairs from Amazon which work well as beds or go completely flat and work great as large benches (perfect for parties). I got a side table from West Elm and large dining chairs and bistro table from Terrain.
I never take this view for granted – it’s what I see from the main front garden. This is my favourite time when the clouds from the ocean drift through the canyon. It’s really amazing to watch. And if you look close enough in the photo above, you’ll see a wire cage which is part of a little step down covered garden for veggies or anything else that you want to grow without the critters getting in.
The garden is really thoughtful; it’s all native plants which is important because of the high temperatures in the summer, drought and all the animals (we have lots of gophers and deer who want to eat everything). I keep a lot of succulents because the ground is perfect for it same with rosemary – it’s everywhere. Jasmine grows in the back yard and in the front in pots, over the door. There’s an apple tree in the front and a maple in the back. My favourite is the bougavilla that drapes over the front and the morning glory that comes for a little bit in the summer.
I also love olive trees so I put a few dwarf varieties in the front along side some lavender. This is what gives my place the vibe of Provence. The umbrella (from Amazon) and bright bistro table set help.
The back yard has a huge slope to it so it’s pretty natural and undone. The bottom is pure rock slab so nothing grows and is also kept natural. A sitting wall was put in in the 20’s by hand and a huge boulder was carved out (also by hand) to make way for the house and back porch. The backyard is the only fenced area so I tend to sit out here in the mornings and late at night with the dog since it’s the safest place from coyotes and other critters.
The studio is about a 1min walk from the main house along a little trail in which you pass the chick coop and then my favourite tree/boulder (which is holding which up?). It’s basically an unfinished shed with a huge deck and the best canyon views. It’s where I do a lot of outdoor yoga or chilling. It’s also the trailhead up the property or down to the little cabin on the creek.
I’ve heard the story from a few neighbours who were all here during its occupancy. In the 50’s, a single man bought the house (he’s the one that added the second floor). In the 70’s he had an older friend who was looking to retire in the area he’d always lived. So the owner invited the man to build a cabin on the land.
The man was in his 70’s and hand-built this cabin overlooking the creek. What is remarkable about this is there is no road access where the cabin is and requires walking up a steep hill for about 5-10min each way from the main road. He hauled all the boulders in the area to build the foundation and then built the rest out of pure lumber from the lumber yard on the boulevard.
There is no electricity or running water to the property and he lived in the home he built for 20 years until he died.
From the studio there is a little buried trail that goes down to the cabin but you really can only get to it in winter when most of the vegetation has died. I’ve only been to the cabin a few times but it’s really impressive; its two floors with the main floor being wall to ceiling glass to see the canyon and creek. There’s an old wood stove in it and what impresses me is there’s a couch, a dresser and a bed. Again, no road access and I keep thinking how did they get that in there (and I know that’s why no one’s taken it out!).
The odd thing about this, and why this is so Topanga, is that my neighbour believes part of this property is hers. When the old man died, she took the bottom part of the house and the top part stayed with my house. Neither uses it but each has access to the floor owned by them. So weird but so charming.
Some people think it feels haunted. I think it feels beautiful.
I’ve never committed to anything as long as I’ve committed to this place is the first home that actually feels like a hygge house. There is a natural charm to the home because of how/why it was built, the fact that it’s only had two owners so it hasn’t really been changed and that there’s space without feeling big. Plus there’s something about this area that feels a world away from everything.The home feels both simple and luxurious, cosy and open, and calm yet energizing. Hygge!
PS: In spring 2017, Hygge and West came and shot my home for their book, Hygge and West Home. I wrote a little more about the home and how I approach living hygge. I love how my chapter turned out so if you want more (or better quality!) photos and a little more insight, I highly recommend picking up the book.