This Family Is Creating a Fairytale Home
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Camille and Joseph Simmons had been trying (and failing) to buy their first home for almost three years when they decided to widen their search. As longtime Long Beach, California residents enjoying the new flexibility of work-from-home schedules, a visit to the mountains adjacent to San Bernardino sent the Simmons hunting for a home in the woods.
The Simmons family had been through a lot: Their son Milo, age 3, had been diagnosed with cancer at three months. The first two years of Milo’s life were spent in and out of the hospital, including during the early, scariest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea of a house surrounded by nature sounded like the space to breathe the family was craving after three difficult years.
In her search, Camille stumbled upon a unique house in the small town of Crestline that she describes as a “crazy cottage castle.” Originally a typical wood cabin, the last owner, who was an eccentric artist, had renovated the house to his liking, including the addition of a castle-like tower and many Moorish arches. “It was this very magical home — very whimsical,” Camille says, “That was what drew us to it — it felt like our own private Disneyland.” (Joseph is actually a technology consultant at Disney.)
Camille also saw the home’s potential. As a design blogger and decorator, she was bursting with ideas for how she could transform the home, and as a first-time buyer, she was excited at the prospect of being able to paint and wallpaper — things she never could do as a renter.
The couple became the owners of their cabin last year, and immediately set to work making it their own. For now, they’ve stuck to mostly cosmetic updates they can make themselves, as Camille says she wants to live with the house before any big remodels. But already, the house is becoming the fairytale cottage she imagined.
Read on as Camille takes us through her Cali dream home:
On finding her home: “Once Milo reached a lasting remission, we were trying to figure out: Where do we want to be? How do we want to live? And that’s how we started looking at homes in the mountains. The reason we have this really quirky house is because we thought that it would be fun for our kid, and a place for us all to heal as a family. We were just looking for something magical after being through all this trauma.”
On when she first fell in love with design: “Growing up, my family would go to the Pasadena Showcase House every year on Mother’s Day, so I was exposed to design at a really young age. Seeing all the different ways you could decorate a space was a big influence. At first it was like, ‘I want to live in one of those houses,’ but then eventually I wondered, ‘How do you create something like that?’ I was in middle school practicing drawing floor plans and reading Architectural Digest and Coastal Living. I didn’t end up studying interior design in college, but when blogging came around and I had my own place to decorate, I started figuring out how I could decorate in affordable ways.”
On the creative freedom of home ownership: “One of the things I was most excited about [homeownership] was that I could use wallpaper now. Pretty much all the places we rented, I wasn’t allowed to paint or play with color the way I wanted to. Now I’m going a little crazy with color. I’m having fun with it. I love the feeling that I can do what I want. We’re getting to a stage where we want to start remodeling, and it’s like, I don’t have to just settle for as-is. Of course, renovating is expensive, but the possibility of a home that can be customized to fit our family, what we like, and how we want to live is so exciting.”
On her current sources of inspiration: “I’ve been buying a lot of design books, especially of cottage-style homes. A really great account that I follow is Paula Sutton @hillhousevintage. I love her home. She has a true English-style home. I look at the vintage-y things she’s found, and how she mixes pattern and color. I like how her home can feel whimsical, but also classic.”
On telling a story with your decor: “I was inspired by our surroundings. We were drawn to this house because it’s in the forest, so that’s kind of the idea I went for for the whole house: To have it inspired by the forest, the animals, the trees, but also the flowers and other things that grow. For my son’s room, I called on my friend Shelley Bruce, who created this really beautiful forest mural that’s like the backdrop behind the bed. It’s a very sweet, very soothing space where Milo can enjoy childhood, which is an experience that we don’t take for granted.”
On the importance of a good primer: “When we were painting over the original murals in my son’s room, the first water-based primer did not work — all the red and orange were bleeding through. We had to go back to the paint store to get a crazy strong Kilz primer to cover that ceiling.”
On her favorite spot in the house: “I really do love my son’s room: Once it was painted, that made it feel so much better in there. I love that color palette in his space. I found this whimsical wallpaper from York Wallcovering for the bathroom that has a little bit of that Moroccan-feel of architecture of his room, but with little wild flowers. I thought, ‘It’s perfect!’ We kept his bedroom a little more neutral, because we had the mural.”
On her husband’s feelings about their very pink bedroom: “He doesn’t care: it doesn’t bother him at all. We have these pink roses that grow out in the garden; the color was very much taken from that color. I wanted this feeling like you’re inside the flower almost. I used Clare paint Pink Sky on the ceiling and Rosé Season on the walls. But I don’t even think of that room being overly pink; it doesn’t feel overwhelming. It’s actually a really calming corner of the house. It’s north facing, so there’s not a whole lot of light that comes in, and it feels very cozy. It’s almost like you’re wrapped in something, the color is enveloped around you.”
On why she loves vintage: “I’ve been a vintage shopper since my wedding; we had a DIY-style wedding. I was going to the flea market to find china and cute little trunks, and I started finding stuff for our little apartment, too. I just can’t find new things that I like. Plus, the vintage furniture looks better and it’s cheaper. I like the Long Beach Antique Market or the Pasadena flea. Whenever I see a vintage shop I stop in; we were in England a few years ago on Portobello Road and I lost my mind.”
On her best secondhand shopping scores: “Those beds were the best find. I was trying to find stuff like that shopping online, but I couldn’t find anything I liked. Or if I did find vintage, they were so, so expensive. We got lucky at one of the shops on the mountain that just had these beds; she only wanted 20 bucks for them because the veneer had that little bit of damage. My husband and my father-in-law restored them and they’re so cute.”
On her design role models: “My grandmother definitely loved designing her home, but in the 40s and 50s, there weren’t really a lot of black interior designers, so that wasn’t something she would’ve pursued. She just carried it out in her own life and made her home look beautiful. My mom and aunt are the same way: They have talent and could have easily been designers, but I think that just wasn’t an option for them. My mom has stacks of decor magazines in her house — she still does. When my parents bought our house when I was about eight, I got dragged along to all the different showrooms in LA to find furniture and fabrics.”
On finding her place in the design world: “I started out as a blogger in 2012. Client design work is primarily what I do now, but I still like to keep the blog going. I also have an online retail shop. I’m at a point where I’m exploring other ways of helping people with decor and design. It’s really hard doing client work. A lot of people come in with this mindset from HGTV, like, ‘It’s going to be quick and easy — I’ll come back and my house will be fixed.’ But it doesn’t work that way. I’m trying to brainstorm if there is a better way to help people, even empower them to learn how to do it themselves.”