Karin Blake - Architectural Digest Top 100

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Minimalist and Americana and/or folk art aren't often paired - but designer Karin Blake has been combining them successfully for awhile. She's been on the "Architectural Digest Top 100 Interior Designers List" since its inception and she was a minamalist before there was even a word for it. Restraint is Karin Blake's signature.

The Malibu, California-based designer is a true believer in Mies van der Rohe’s philosophy that less is more. “I value negative space,” says Karin Blake, whose concise, highly edited interiors combine the whimsy of folk art with the precision of Modernism. The designer, who has many art collectors among her clientele, notes that there is a “gallery” feel to her interiors. “There’s not a lot of clutter,” she says. “Each piece stands out, even if it’s a table. I even avoid lamps whenever possible."

Speaking of the Cape Cod summer home she purchased three years ago, ”My children were being raised in California, it was important to get them out, to get to know the East Coast.” Especially Maine. “Maine attracted me because it doesn’t have the crowding and commercialization that’s happened in other areas. I had a little farm on Martha’s Vineyard, which I stupidly sold. When I lived there, the island was so charming, making what has happened since so sad. Maine, however, filled that void.” She pauses, laughing, “No T-shirts.”
Though the original house sat lakeside on over 100 acres, “the place was in terrible condition. The floors were a mess, it needed painting inside and out, and we had to gut the kitchen. Beyond that, the two barns had to be completely salvaged.”
“I love strong, primary colors,” Blake says. “A little bit of red in every room really helps.”
A daunting task but one Blake jumped on, ultimately creating a 15-odd-room (tiny ones notwithstanding) summer vacation haven, a much-improved version of the original home, where she and her family spent “at least a month every summer.” Even more personally, its warren of rooms provided the perfect backdrop for the true passion of this decorator’s life—collecting folk art. Indeed, a walk through its cascade of spaces is a flight of the imagination, a merry jaunt through whimsical Americana.

Karin Blake - Malibu, CA Phone: 310-456-8010 Fax: 310-456-1093

The above article is part of an ongoing series Highlighting Top Interior Designers; other top designers recently highlighted include: Jennifer Post *** Lillian August *** Carol Bolton Hicks *** Geoffrey Bradfield *** Paul Vincent Wiseman *** Sills Huniford Associates ***

Karin Blake is one of many hugely talented designers listed in our Directory of Designers . Feel free to peruse the Directory for help with your design project.

Architectural Digest

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Italian Style Farmhouse Designed To Look Old (Cont'd)

This house and its beautiful landscape was constructed from scratch.  Not one tree stood on the site. 

With its old, plush-looking landscape however,  it has a naturally-established look, as if seeds have scattered with the winds across the grounds.

What now has the appearance of an Italian Style farmhouse or old Tuscany estate was carefully constructed by a team of professionals led by Saint Dizier Design with attention to detail: 

  • creation of elegant rusticity, “a balance between dress-up and relaxed, a hodgepodge very carefully orchestrated,” according to Jacques Saint Dizier, of Saint Dizier Design
  • use of fieldstone that might have been dug from local earth 
  • capture vineyard panoramas, he raised the residence three feet to allow for stone terracing. "I’ve always felt that terracing merges architecture with the landscape,” he remarks, “so that you’re not sure where the stone walls become house.”
  • anchor the house with an array of gnarled trees with languorous branches as thought they've survived a hundred summers, reports landscape architect Frederika Moller
  • surround the property with masses of Teucrium and other herbs, confirming the house’s wine-country setting 
  • construct a bocce court (a long-time Italian pastime activity)
  • reinforce viewing areas of the 200 acres of grapes
  • The landscape has many moods, the result of the grand skills of landscape architect Frederika Moller.
  • To the rear, a series of outdoor rooms are formally defined by the rectilinear pool, pergola and bocce court.
  • Mediterranean plantings spill, climb and drape, blurring distinctions between the natural and the cultivated. A rose garden and a vegetable garden are enclosed by laurel hedges, bisected à la France by rose-lined pathways.

The High back woven chairs shown left are from Ralph Lauren Home, and it so happens that Saint Dizier Home Shop carries one of the largest collections of Ralph Lauren in the San Francisco area.

The pergola, pool and bocce court make for a perfect outdoor entertaining retreat.

And of course, this is a fine example of a Bocce court, an Italian ball sport, but played around Europe and also in overseas areas that have received Italian migrants.

Bonus Recipe:  For Outdoor Entertaining With An Italian Flair, "Brunschetta With Swiss Chard Pecorino

Outdoor entertaining Bruschetta, delicious grilled slices of crusty Italian bread topped with a myriad of toppings that can be prepared quickly and is often served as an antipasto.  This version is one of my favorites, you can use any green leafy vegetable such as Tuscan black cabbage, kale or spinach in place of the swiss chard as shown in the photo. The addition of buttery, toasted pine nuts or crispy pancetta bits to the topping would offer options to vary this dish nicely.

Bruschetta With Swiss Chard & Pecorino Cheese

Yield: Serves 4
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins
Total Time: 35 mins
Bruschetta, delicious grilled slices of crusty Italian bread topped with a myriad of toppings that can be prepared quickly and is often served as an antipasto.


4 Slices Crusty Italian Bread (Ciabatta Works Well)
1 Garlic Clove Peeled
1 Large Bunch Of Swiss Chard
2 Cloves Garlic, Peeled And Minced
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Minced Sun-Dried Tomatoes (I Prefer Oil Packed)
Salt & Pepper To Taste
Dash Of Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 Cup Shaved Pecorino Cheese


Wash the swiss chard and dry it well, chop the leaves coarsely, and finely chop the stems.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan over medium heat, and then add the minced garlic and cook just until fragrant.
Add the swiss chard and cook until it is wilted and soft.
Add the sun-dried tomatoes, and then season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Mix well, and then set aside.
Either grill the bread slices, or place under the broiler, lightly browning each side.
Place the peeled garlic clove on the tines of a fork and scrape it across each slice of toasted bread.
Divide the swiss chard mixture between the four slices of bread, and then top each with some of the shaved pecorino cheese.

From "Italian Food Forever," Buon Appetito! Deborah Mele

(Architectural Digest Photos, Architecture by c, AIA, and Karen Jensen Roberts, AIA/Interior Design by Jacques Saint Dizier, ASID and Richard Westbrook of Saint Dizier Design/Landscape Architecture by Frederika Moller Text by Patricia Leigh Brown/Photography by Mary E. Nichols Published June 2009 )