At Home with Susan Spath
Posted on February 27, 2017
Sitting in her sun-splashed Rancho Santa Fe breakfast room, where floor-to-ceiling doors overlook the swimming pool, vegetable garden, and in the distance, rows of fruit trees, interior designer Susan Spath takes in the brilliant blue sky and lush landscape, intensely green from recent winter’s rains. Like the view, all the rooms in Spath’s home are light, bright, and fresh, designed in soothing blue, white, and neutral tones. “As you can see, it’s really open,” says Spath of the home, which she describes as a “deconstructed French farmhouse.”
She began designing and building the property more than two years ago. “Every room has doors that open to the outside. I wanted it to be a lot crisper, cleaner, and lighter than so many of the houses you typically see.”
The home is another example of the luxurious, livable style that Spath is well known for as the longtime owner of the Solana Beach-based Kern & Company, a design firm with showrooms in the Cedros Design District and Rancho Santa Fe. Spath bought the business in 1994 from the late Brent Kern, who urged her to come work for him when she was managing the former Piret’s French bistro across from his Encinitas furniture store. Spath, who earned an MBA in economics at Bowling Green State University in Ohio before heading west, had no plans to make interior design her career. But she had a head for mathematics, an eye for spatial relations, and a photographic memory — all of which have since served her well. For the last 26 years, she has designed residential and commercial projects all over the country, from Palm Beach to Rancho Santa Fe. Clients have included everyone from CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to professional sports team owners. Most of Spath’s projects are from the “ground up,” working with architects to come up with a concept, providing complete renderings and elevations, and designing custom windows, cabinetry, ceilings, and wall details.
Her own house bears personal touches and the latest in design techniques. “Trends in design are definitely more transitional,” says Spath. “We want to lighten things up and brighten things up. I think the heavy dark [look] has seen its day right now, and I think people, even if they want that Tuscan look, want a lighter, fresher approach to it.
That, of course, can present challenges. But Spath says lighter paint tones, light fixtures, and drapes can go a long way. She has redesigned large homes in the Ranch, for instance, by mixing white furnishings with dark wood for a style that is more sunny Santa Barbara than traditional Tuscany.
In her formal dining room, Spath uses a classic burl and inlaid wood dining table and chairs she’s owned for years, but upholstered the chairs in a crisp, quilted white linen studded with polished nickel nail heads. The sophisticated space mixes the old and new, with paneled walls, reclaimed Versailles patterned wood floors, and a rustic beamed ceiling. The mirrored cabinet provides a bit of sparkle. Spath loves to set the table with her collection of china and crystal passed down from her family. She combines cherished heirlooms and collectibles with contemporary pieces from Jay Strongwater and Hermès.
She advises clients that accessories like pillows and fresh flowers are an easy, affordable way to give your home a new look. “People just get stuck with the stuff they have. I think getting new towels, bath mats, all the little things, make the home look a lot nicer,” Spath says. “You know, even an outfit, after adding new accessories and jewelry, all of a sudden looks great. Just accessorizing your home and freshening up things makes a big difference.’’
You might compare your home to your wardrobe — filled with good quality pieces that can be changed up with accessories and jewelry that reflect personal panache. “I always say you wouldn’t wear the same clothes for ten years, but people kind of get their house set and they just let it stay,” says Spath. “A house is like a living, breathing thing, and we spend the majority of our lives here. So I think the house needs a lot of tender care.” 858.259.7722, kerncodesigns.com Andrea Naversen
Photography by Vincent Knakal