Tour This Little Beach Bungalow With Big Boho Style
It all began with a search for sunshine. Photographer Joan Allen was scrolling through cottages on Airbnb, looking for a weekend getaway within easy driving distance from Santa Monica, where she lives with her partner, a music industry executive. “We wanted a place to escape for a weekend in February with our family, so I was looking up rentals in Ojai,” she remembers. “All of a sudden, this adorable house in Hollywood Beach pops up, and it was so cute and fun I decided to book it on the spot.”
The couple drove an hour north on the Pacific Coast Highway to the bucolic enclave near Oxnard, where celebrities once flocked to escape the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles (hence the beach town’s name). “We were so enchanted by the charming neighborhood; the big, wide beaches; and the beautiful flowering sand dunes—which are so rare on the West Coast—that we began to think this town could become our regular weekend retreat,” says Allen.
In the living room: Outfitted with a midcentury-inspired sofa from HD Buttercup and a pair of indoor-outdoor chairs from Target, the living room is relaxed and casual. A coffee table from Anthropologie was one of Allen’s favorite finds. “I love to have something unexpected in every room, and for me, the light fixture is the surprise in here,” she says. She’d originally considered bamboo shades for texture, but in the end opted for white ones that provide privacy while still inviting plenty of light into the space.
She mentioned her interest in Hollywood Beach to the Airbnb homeowner, and a couple of months later, the phone rang. “She called me and said that her all-time favorite house in Hollywood Beach was coming on the market,” says Allen. “We raced up there the next day to see it, and within 24 hours we made an offer.”
The classic midcentury California cottage had the kind of bones Allen loved at first sight—wall-to-wall shiplap, exposed beams, original hardwood floors, massive windows, and an open floor plan that made the cottage feel much bigger than its 1,094-square-foot blueprint. But it needed a simple refresh—refinishing the floors, repainting all the shiplap, finishing the garage—and a few structural improvements (including adding a bathroom skylight) before Allen could reinvent the interiors with her unfussy California style.
Wanting their cottage to withstand the wear and tear of beach-focused family living and the inevitable houseguests, the couple decided to furnish the house with a mix of online and retail store finds that would not break the bank—or their hearts—if they needed replacing. The challenge of finding affordable, off-the-shelf pieces that were high on style and low in cost became an exhilarating one for Allen, who started an Instagram account for the cottage: @thehollywoodbeachbungalow. She told the story of the bungalow’s rebirth, one find—and one photo—at a time.
The exterior: The couple’s 1957 beach house, one of the original gems in Hollywood Beach that was never altered, got a fresh coat of white paint. The black-framed windows lend a contemporary vibe. Landscaped with mulch and sea grass, the “yard” is designed for easy maintenance. “The mulch also catches all the sand that would otherwise blow right in the door,” says Allen.
From the Restoration Hardware dining table and metal bistro chairs from Amazon to the West Elm jute rugs and the Sit ‘n Sleep beds, the house is outfitted with basics that deliver great form and function. But Allen had the most fun with more personal additions, like the Charlie Rowan Design baby swaddles she fell in love with and employs as occasional bed throws, as well as her own work, which she displays throughout the house.
“I’m a lifetime creative person,” she says. “I’ve always been that way, since I was a child, so to have a project like this that’s different from my day job—well, let’s just say I dove into it and realized how much I truly love interior design as a creative outlet.” Allen defines her style as California casual: eclectic, laid-back, and spare, with unexpected surprises sprinkled in.
“I grew up in a family of nine, with six siblings, four dogs, two pianos, and chaos and disorganization all around me,” says Allen. “So now I crave order and simplicity, but I still believe every space should have a good bit of personality in it. Just because it’s all in good order doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and playful, too.”
She had only one hard-and-fast rule when it came to the home’s decor. “I didn’t want anything overtly beachy in here,” she says. “I don’t need a sign that says, ‘This way to the beach,’ or lots of sea shells holding soap in the bathrooms. That feels too expected and thematic to me. We’re at the beach, after all. I prefer more subtle references—in color or texture, or just making the indoor-outdoor connection effortless. When we’re here, we really spend as much time as we can on the beach.”
One of the couple’s favorite traditions is walking to the sand dunes to watch the sunset. “We grab a blanket and a glass of wine, and plop down in the sand,” says Allen. “Sometimes it’s foggy, and sometimes it’s clear, but regardless of the weather, we go out and light candles and watch all the kids tumble down the dunes. It’s always a good time.”
The kitchen: The former owners had the colorful custom cabinetry—reminiscent of a lifeguard stand—made for the open kitchen space. Small but fully functional, the kitchen is the hub of the house, and the industrial table doubles for entertaining guests and working from home. “This is where life happens, right here,” says Allen. “It’s the center of our home.”
The “kids” guest bedroom fits a pair of twin beds perfectly. Because of the size of the room, Allen wanted to keep things spare, so the bedding and a shared West Elm nightstand are white. One of her fine-art prints hangs on the wall.
The seamless connection to the outdoors was a selling point for the couple, whose master suite with private patio access also includes an industrial-chic bath hidden behind a sliding barn door.
The home’s back patio perfectly matches the Southern California lifestyle. “We barbecue a lot,” says Allen, “and on any given weekend night we’re pulling out the cornhole.” The wooden table and chairs are from West Elm.
A guest bedroom opens to the private back patio. Custom 8-foot French doors almost always stay open. “There were no window treatments at all in the house, so we added these white drapes from Restoration Hardware to soften the bedrooms and also soften the light,” says Allen. She kept many of the home’s original period light fixtures and modernized them by swapping regular light bulbs for industrial ones.