The Topanga House by Tamar Barnoon
Tucked away in the leafy hills of Topanga, California, this rustic cabin has been given new life by the multi-talented Tamar Barnoon, a stylist, set designer, furniture maker and interior designer. The newly renovated home embraces natural light, organic materials like oak, marble and copper and beautiful furniture pieces that are either wrought by hand or clever vintage finds. Below, Tamar shares how her background in film and television have informed her eye for design, and why nothing can replace the beauty of the handmade.
Photography by Laure Joliet
What were you like as a child? Do you come from a creative family?
I was a pretty serious kid who loved to write and draw and spent a lot of time dreaming up stories. I loved dance and was lucky enough to have access to an incredible mix of live dance performances and opportunities to see how people make and think about art and creative work.
Tell us a bit about your career journey – who are some of the people who have inspired and mentored you along the way?
From a young age, I knew I wanted to be involved in the film business. I started working at Martha Stewart Living Television in high school and continued while in college. I actually think I was their first PA (production assistant) and I worked under the Art Director. It was a really important part of my education. It was an introduction into a new aesthetic, into visual storytelling and to a tremendous amount of education in furniture and design history. It was also a formative experience to work in a company which was primarily led and run by women. It didn’t occur to me until I left and joined a more traditional film production company, that the rest of the entertainment business did not include quite so many women behind the camera.
Has your background in production design shaped your approach to styling and designing residential interiors?
My training in film and television has often involved a fair amount of research of both character and place. In film, I think about spaces based on how they relate to people and the “why” of those spaces and objects. I take this practice with me in my approach to interior design and enjoy the process of thinking not only about what works for the “story” of the house, but also spend a lot of time working with the identity and needs of the clients, as I think the space should really be their own.
Tell us a bit about your most recent project, the Topanga House. What were the client’s “must-haves”?
The house had been renovated a few times over the years, including some additions to the original small cabin, making it feel a bit disjointed. The client brought me in primarily to update the kitchen and bathroom, and find a way to make the space feel more uniform and complete. Her must haves included a new kitchen, with more light and natural materials, [and the inclusion of] sustainable, environmentally-conscious materials where possible.
The interior is quite pared back, yet full of warmth and texture. What drew you to materials with a patina?
It’s very much a handmade cabin in the woods, and I wanted to embrace this part of its identity and strip the space back as much as possible. We selected materials that showed the work of the hand, and really leaned into a mix of wood and woodwork to highlight the original structure where possible. We unified interior architectural details and kept with a very disciplined palette so that the textures of the space provided the visual landscape. The addition of the oak millwork, all built by EBJoinery, elevated the space by adding a slightly more refined finish to the wood in the house while still maintaining the look of the handmade. Each piece is built by hand, veneered by hand, nothing is ordered ready-made, and you can really see it in the details of the work.
Whether it be a particular room or a unique object, what is your favourite feature of the home?
I love this kitchen. It’s intimate and still breezy and light. I especially love the small desk at the entrance that EBJoinery built. I’m also really happy with how the copper backsplash turned out – it was a process to achieve the right finish on the metal and also to keep a very simple profile. It was important to me that any new material we added to the house, had a warmth and patina that would match the existing space.
We’re honoured that our Malawi rug has pride of place in the main living area. What considerations are front of mind when you are choosing a rug for a space?
My client was certain she wanted a neutral rug in a soft wool pile. The Malawi has all of the directives in our design direction, you can see the work of the human hand in it, the materials are natural and provide a depth of texture and movement in an organic palette and form. It catches light in a really beautiful way and was the perfect piece to bridge and ground the real mix of furniture we picked for the living room.
The house is filled with lots of clever storage solutions. Do you have any tips for striking a balance between functional elements and more decorative design details?
I tend to lead with the functional first, especially in a house like this. If you look there is no extra hardware on cabinets; each type of object adheres to a functional and consistent material identity. There was no storage in the main area or the bathroom, so it was a necessity to add it here, and it provided a way to simplify some of the mismatched floors and walls. I’m from New England, so I do have a particular love of the shaker hooks, and I think it’s a very simple way to keep spaces clear clean.
Tell us a little bit about Honeyed Figs, your beautiful line of furniture and home goods. What is it about objects made by hand that appeals to you?
Honeyed Figs is a line that came out of my interest in making classic, timeless, handmade pieces for the home. I have always loved to see how people make things. I prefer shapes and forms that show the work of the human hand, but not in a way to hide the material, so it’s more about the work, and craftsmanship.
Much of the furniture we sell is made with traditional joinery, and each element is built by hand. As much as possible, we use locally sourced materials and try to work without creating great waste. I think these objects often have a different visual weight to them than something that is mass produced. I prefer pieces that you move with you through your life and will wear and weather to be more beautiful with time.
Finally, what’s keeping you creatively stimulated right now?
I think time in nature in the most simple ways is always important for creative inspiration, especially now while travel is a bit more limited. I’m also thinking a lot about how to repurpose and use vintage and deadstock in new fabrication or in new design projects.
Follow Tamar Barnoon on Instagram.